Mo's Collection...an Exploration
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This is a companion piece to my main tracker geeklist: Mo's Collection...in Solitaire.

Around the 1P-Guild (and really, you read it all the time around BGG), I've been seeing the interest grow about playing the games you own more, and I've been thinking the same for some time now myself. So, I decided to begin a new goal or challenge or whatever for myself. No time constraints on this one, though. I hope this will be an ongoing initiative on my part.

I have several games I really enjoy, which I play once or twice and then sit around for months and months without additional plays (Mage Knight, Robinson Crusoe). Or I have games I believe I like but haven't gotten into them enough to know for sure (Eldritch Horror, Lord of the Rings), again because they get to the table once or twice and back in the game closet they go.

Anyway, so my current thinking is that I'm going to pick a game I want to explore and play it three times before putting it away for a time. I'll still play quicker and/or lighter games both during and in between these three plays. But I'm hoping to get a deeper experience from the game in question and/or decide I can put it up for sale/trade.

Then I'll pick the next "big" game to play three times. And, honestly, three plays isn't enough to get everything out of it either, but it'll be much better than I've been doing so far. And who knows, some games may make it on the list multiple times.

With that being said, feel free to follow along, make comments, ask questions. I'm always happy to hang out with my fellow solo gamers. This list will have many updates, changes, and additions along the way, so be warned. And who knows, this may go down in a blaze of glory faster than a session of Zeds! Let's find out...



EDIT 08-Aug-2015: I really like Ryan's game photo on his exploration geeklist, so I took a picture of all of my solo games as of this particular moment in time. Not all of these fall under my intention for this geeklist, but it's still fun to look at.





EDIT 24-Aug-2016: Wow! Totally unplanned, but this updated pic of my solo games collection is almost exactly a year later. Hm, maybe I have too many games?!

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This will be a running list of information regarding this Exploration project that began on 14-May-2015.

Exploration: By the Numbers

49 Unique Games Played
133 Individual Plays
27 Explorations Achieved
11 Most Plays for One Game (Star Wars: The Card Game)
17 Games Purged
7 Unplayed Games Currently
5 Games Potentially to Explore



Exploration: The List

Here is an alphabetical listing of all the games played for this geeklist. The link will take you to that game's main geeklist item. Each listing includes the number of plays completed for its exploration.

51st State: Master Set
7-Rated Games
Big Book of Madness
DC Comics Deck-Building Game
Don't Tread on Me
Elder Sign
Eldritch Horror
Flamme Rouge
Helionox: The Last Sunset
In Magnificent Style
Lord of the Rings
Lunarchitects
Mage Knight
Navajo Wars
Nemo's War (1st Ed.)
Nemo's War (2nd Ed.)
Paperback
Rail Baron Rivals
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Runebound (Third Edition)
Shadowrun: Crossfire
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Silverton
Space Infantry
Star Wars: The Card Game
Top 20 Solo - 2014
Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game



EDIT: Added Flamme Rouge to the Explored list and updated the stats.
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2. Board Game: Nemo's War [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:2973]
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Why This Game?
This was the first game that immediately came to mind when I thought up this three-play idea. With each trickle of new information from VPG regarding the upcoming second edition, I've become increasingly excited about getting it into my hands. However, last year, I picked this up from the 1P Trading Post and have only gotten to it twice. I really enjoyed both plays and so before this classic gets swallowed up by the shiny new version, I wanted to be sure to give it it's due table time.

Three-Play #1, 08-May-2015
Variant and/or Additional Rules: None
Path Taken: Exploration
Result: 143, Inconsequential Results

Three-Play #2, 13-May-2015
Variant and/or Additional Rules: Expansion Cards + Deadly Seas
Path Taken: Anti-Imperialism
Result: 26, Utter Failure

Three-Play #3, 16-May-2015
Variant and/or Additional Rules: Expansion Cards + Historical Game
Path Taken: War
Result: 142, Inconsequential Results

Conclusion
Fantastic game. With the four distinct paths to take, each focusing on a different set of VP conditions, and a great narrative flow, this is well worth owning, even with the second edition looming on the horizon. There is a lot of dice rolling, which I normally don't enjoy, but the story arc shines and overcomes that for me here. The counters are subpar quality but don't detract from the experience. And the map is great with easy access to almost all the information you need to play. This will definitely see the table again down the road.
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3. Board Game: Space Infantry [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:3238]
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Why This Game?
Well, for several reasons. First, it looks pretty sweet! And I'm genuinely excited to give it a try. There appears to be a ton of game in the box with all of the different missions, enemies, and squad units. I just received this last week and have it on loan from a good friend. And while he said I can keep it as long as I wish, I don't want it sitting around collecting dust unnecessarily. Also, there seems to be some rumors of a possible new edition in the future, so I'd like to know if it's something I'm interested in for myself.

Because of all the variance with this one, I have a feeling I'll do two separate Three-Plays. The first will be one-off missions, just get a feel for the gameplay and the various rules. Then, after a bit, I'll bring it back out to try the campaign mode, which seems like it will be super fun...assuming I can survive more than one mission. We shall see. Wish me luck!

Three-Play #1, 19-May-2015
Mission: S001
Enemy: Dark Roots
Team: Squad Leader, Fire Teams A & B, Assault Teams A & B, Scientist, Demolitionist, Technician
Result: Defeat, All Units Eliminated, 0 Laboratories Explored

Three-Play #2, 24-May-2015
Mission: S001
Enemy: Dark Roots
Team: Squad Leader, Fire Team A, Assault Teams A & B, Shotgunner, Scientist, Demolitionist
Result: Defeat, All Units Eliminated, 0 Laboratories Explored

Three-Play #3, 25-May-2015
Mission: S001
Enemy: Flesh Eaters
Team: Squad Leader, Fire Team A, Assault Teams A & B, Shotgunner, Scientist, Technician
Result: Success, All Units Survived, 3 Laboratories Explored

Conclusion
I had a lot of fun with all three sessions, and I haven't even gotten into the "meat" of the game yet - advanced rules and campaign play. I like the squad building aspect here much more than I did in Thunderbolt - Apache Leader. The theme probably has something to do with that, but it's also simpler and easier for me to grasp.

The copy I have came with the mini-cards as a sub for the RN chits. I like the cards a lot. I didn't have an issue with the RN chits, but I was concerned about destroying them over time, always picking at them with my fingernail to get them out of the cup. The mini-cards are always in my hand...I never put the deck down. Just do a quick re-shuffle when needing to draw a new RN and it's all good.

Really want to keep playing, but I want to continue my focus on exploring other games in the collection that I feel have been neglected. I may come back to this one right away, though, after the next round of Three-Play. Really cool game.
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4. Board Game: Rail Baron Rivals [Average Rating:7.33 Unranked]
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Why This Game?
So this one doesn't exactly fit my intentions of "exploration" for this series, but I have played it seven times so far this month, so I wanted to have record of it here for posterity's sake.

It's from the 2014 Solitaire Print and Play Contest. I played it a couple of times last year while the contest was going on, but I finally made my own PnP copy this month as I wanted to get back to learning the game.

Unfortunately, I've found the rules quite obtuse and vague in many places. While this is not an 18xx game, it does have concepts and terminology that will be familiar to those who have grok'd that genre of game. I've never played one myself, and I found this to be a detriment to learning the game. So, I decided to dive back into it this month and really get a grip on the rules.

Below are the three most recent sessions as they should be the most accurate in terms of my understanding of the rules and gameplay.

Three-Play #1, 07-Jun-2015
Mo = 78
Rival = 71

Three-Play #2, 08-Jun-2015
Mo = 91
Rival 109

Three-Play #3, 09-Jun-2015
Mo = n/a
Rival = n/a
Failed to increase one Railroad's value. Insta-loss.

Conclusion
I still have two questions open to the designer in the forum. Hopefully, I'll receive a response in the near future. Once I do, I believe I'll be at about 95% in terms of understanding the rules. Don't get me wrong, though. This is not a complex game. It has just been a task which I've worked hard to overcome in learning the game.

I've even pondered re-writing the rules (as I've interpreted them) so that others of my ilk will have an easier time learning the game. Because, to be honest, I really like it, and I think it's an excellent game, with various ways to build your routes, manage the overall portfolio of investments, and the AI is simple and effective. And I think it looks great on the table, too.

This PnP game will definitely stay in the collection and see more table time in the future.
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5. Board Game: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island [Average Rating:7.95 Overall Rank:38]
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Why This Game?
First of all...this is a great game. Thematic. Tough. Lots of narrative. I already love this game. And yet...I've only played it five times. In almost two years. That's pretty poor, IMO. And that's why it's here.

I recently received the Voyage of the Beagle expansion as a gift from a super nice gamer here on BGG, and I did get in one quick play of it. It's so cool! I can't wait to give it my full attention.

But, considering I've only played the game four other times, and all four were using the first scenario, Castaways, I feel like I've hardly touched the base game yet. So, I'm going to get in three plays of the base game with this round of sessions. I decided to randomly choose the scenario with a 1d6 roll, so there's a chance I might get the same one twice. We'll see.

Either way, I'm looking forward to my upcoming adventures!

Three-Play #1, 13-Jun-2015
Scenario: #3, Jenny Needs Help!
Character: Carpenter, Soldier, Sailor
Helper: Surgeon
Starting Items: Biscuits, Pipe & Tobacco
Result: Lost, Carpenter died at end of Turn 6

Three-Play #2, 14-Jun-2015
Scenario: #4, Volcano Island
Character: Explorer, Soldier
Helper: Friday
Starting Items: Biscuits, Broken Bottle
Result: Lost, Explorer and Soldier died at end of Turn 6

Three-Play #3, 09-Jul-2015
Scenario: #2, Cursed Island
Character: Carpenter, Missionary, Cook
Helper: Boy
Starting Items: Pistol, Pipe & Tobacco
Result: Lost, Cook died during Turn 5

Conclusion
After a bit of a hiatus for a family vacation, I finally finished up my third play of RC. If I'm being honest, I have to admit this game is straddling the line between frustration and enjoyment. I've played eight times in total and have yet to win. And I believe only one of those did I actually have a chance for victory. Even so, I still really enjoy the game.

I find the narrative flow to be the game's strong point. There are so many events and things going on, I can't believe it actually holds together. Maybe others find this a detriment, but I get a lot of enjoyment from the experience of playing the game. There is much to be done, but there are never enough pawns to place on actions. Weather comes into play. Animals attack. Disease. Fire. Who knows what else?! It's a wild ride.

And so far, I'm staying on it. Maybe over time, the lack of success will eventually push me into that frustration area, but for now, I'm in. It's a fiddly game, with lots of decks of cards, and many tokens & cubes to keep track of, but the story created by this gaming experience has been excellent so far.
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6. Board Game: Lord of the Rings [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:714]
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Why This Game?
I've had this game for more than a year now and have only played it once, last summer. That's a shame, because I distinctly remember really enjoying the card management here combined with the increasing tension the game presents as it progresses to the end. Not sure why I haven't pulled it down from the shelf since then, and that's why it's here now.

I like the Lord of the Rings IP in general, but I wouldn't say I'm a fanboy by any means. I've seen the movies and read the books, and I liked them. But I'm not enamored with them as many folks are. It's entertaining and great storytelling, but I don't know/remember all of the ins and outs of the lore. So I'm curious to know if this game will hold up for me with a few plays in relatively quick succession.

I'm also curious to know how this holds up with different player counts. I played it four-player last year and plan to begin that way again. There really is no adjustment to the game for the different player counts besides the same number of Legendary cards in the first half the game will be divided amongst fewer players. I may or may not get to try this out. We'll see.

Three-Play #1, 25-Jul-2015
Players: 4
Difficulty: Normal
Result: Defeat
Score: 57

Three-Play #2, 29-Jul-2015
Players: 4
Difficulty: Normal
Result: Defeat
Score: 55

Three-Play #3, 31-Jul-2015
Players: 2
Difficulty: Normal
Result: Defeat
Score: 60

Conclusion
This game is essentially a card/resource management game. Each Hobbit has a hand of cards which allows the entire Fellowship to move along their journey. The card represent various aspects of survival for the Hobbits, including combat, hiding, friendship, and travel. Each Hobbit also gains up to three attributes on each board, otherwise, they will move closer to Sauron on the corruption track. If at least one Hobbit makes to Mt Doom and successfully throws in the Ring, the Fellowship wins.

There are lots of things I enjoy about this game. The cardplay is fantastic. I really enjoy managing the cards for each of the Hobbits, when to spend them, which ones to spend, and who acquires new ones. Combine this with the "resources" of those attributes, and you have a really nice hand management game.

I also love that there is player elimination in this game. As long as one Hobbit can make it to the end, you have a chance to defeat evil. There is a corruption track which shows how close Sauron is to gaining the ring, as well as how much under the Ring's spell the Hobbits have succumbed. If a Hobbit and Sauron meet on this track, the Hobbit is out of the game, as he has gone too far into his obsession with the Ring.

As these two forces come closer and closer on the corruption track, the tension of the game increases. Then, when one, and then another, Hobbit are removed from the game, that tension just skyrockets.

For me, this is also where the theme comes through...that feeling of tension and desperation as the endgame comes nearer. As I said above, I don't know all the ins and outs of the LotR lore, and I think I miss out on the story while playing the game because of this. Again, the tension is there. The "feel" of LotR is there for me but not the narrative. But that's just me.

Overall, an excellent cooperative game that most gamers should give a look. However, I think this game is going to be a victim of Too Many Games Syndrome for me. I would definitely play this again at some point but when? I feel like it will sit on the shelf for another year or longer before I got around to playing it. So, with that in mind, it's going on the trade/sale pile. But maybe down the line, I'll try to bring it back for a few more plays before sending it out into the world yet again.
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7. Board Game: Eldritch Horror [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:47]
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Why This Game?
This is another game I've owned for quite a while, well over a year, and I only have two plays so far. The last one was back in November last year. Looking over my play log, I said I enjoyed the game both times I played it. That may be true, but I'm not sure this game is for me.

First, the theme doesn't really hold any interest for me. I've read The Call of Cthulhu and one or two other of Lovecraft's non-Cthulhu stories. They were good, but I really don't have any investment in the theme or overall lore. Of course, one of the first games I heard about when I found this hobby was Arkham Horror. I heard how great it was. And I heard how long it was. And how many expansions there were. And so on. But it all seemed too overwhelming to get into...especially alone.

Then Eldritch Horror was released and was touted as an AH 2.0, in a sense. More streamlined. Better narrative cohesion. And it's only the base game to start. So, I went for it...especially after all the praise it initially received on SGoyT (I specifically remember Jack talking about it, which pushed me over the edge into buying EH).

And so here I am, 16, 18 months later...and I don't know. Is the game for me? Is it too long? Too large, physically? I don't have much table space. Interesting enough to hold my attention without the Cthulhu experience? And that dice-for-resolution mechanism....I've had sketchy success, at best, with "dice games" so far. I know there is a strong narrative to this game, but I don't know if that's enough for me. Yet. Let's find out.

Three-Play #1, 06-Aug-2015
Jim Culver, Jacqueline Fine
vs Yog-Sothoth
Final Doom = 9
Result = Abandoned

Three-Play #2, n/a

Three-Play #3, n/a

Conclusion
Well, that didn't take long to make a decision. I think I went into this Three-Play knowing I was going to put this game up for trade. That's not a good way to start, unfortunately. The game is just...big. Time and space. It took about 20 minutes to set up...if I played more, this would go down. I played for an hour after that but only made it through one-third of the Mythos deck (the game's timer, essentially). At that point, both of my investigators had died, and it was pretty late for a work night.

Tonight, I had planned to pick up where I left off...as long as one of the endgame conditions haven't been met, you just start up with a new investigator when one dies. However, I was thinking about it off and on throughout the day and decided, no, I don't think this one is for me. Why spend more hours on this when I could be playing something else?

Another issue, it doesn't fit on my game table. I had to put three of the mini-card decks, a small container of clue tokens, and the Mythos deck onto the board itself. Plus, I've got several different sets of cards stacked on top of each other as single card decks off to the side of the board. While playing, I'd have to pick up the whole deck so I could pick one from the middle set of cards to take my turn. I was knocking tokens onto the floor when trying to draw cards. I was getting annoyed. Again, it was late, and maybe I shouldn't have been pushing through it.

The gameplay itself is good overall. It does present a strong narrative flow. EH has obviously been produced and developed very well, and everything comes together quite nicely. FFG did a really solid job. Although, that dice resolution thing just gets to me sometimes. When my investigators died, they were fighting a monster. Jim only got to roll one die, but he had a special weapon that added five dice. Sweet! Only one hit....twice. Man, I hate that. I have that same level of frustration with Hostage Negotiator, but that game only lasts 15 minutes. So I get angry; the game ends a couple minutes later; and either I put it away or go again. Here, I still had about two more hours of game time to go. Ugh.

However, I think it's the theme that ultimately pushed me over the edge. I've got other "big" games - Space Empires 4X, Navajo Wars, Dawn of the Zeds - so, I'm not opposed to that style of game. But to overcome the nitpicky stuff, it needs to grab me thematically. And Cthulhu just doesn't.

No worries though. No sooner than I decided to trade it, I contacted a fellow solo gamer and worked out a deal. I'll be getting Gem Rush and Shadowrun: Crossfire in exchange for EH and its first expansion. A happy ending it is.
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8. Board Game: Elder Sign [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:465]
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Why This Game?
I just received this game in trade a few days ago. I was interested in it for two reasons (well, other than the influence of SGoyT reports, of course). I decided Eldritch Horror was just too big for me, and I wanted to see if this would give me a relatively similar feel but on a smaller scale, both in time and table space. Second, I've been in the mood to try out a "real" dice game.

Obviously, I play games all the time that use dice, but I don't think I've owned a game that was all about the dice (Yahtzee, withstanding). And with my hit-and-miss attitude toward dice-for-resolution games, my initial inclination is to say I won't like this game. It'll be too long and too repetitive with dice roll after dice roll after dice roll.

But as I've learned over the years, you don't know until you try it. If I had the option, I probably would have gone with Nations: the Dice Game as my "dice game" to try first. The theme is more interesting to me, and it looks like a much quicker game. And as I said with Eldritch, the Cthulhu theme isn't up my alley...but I'm not opposed to it either. So, I think this will be an interesting choice as an exploration game.

Finally, I have the Gates of Arkham expansion as well, and these three Exploration Plays will include this. Gates has been praised as bringing the base game up to both a better thematic and more interesting gameplay experience. I'm looking forward to this round of exploration.

Pre-Play, 15-Aug-2015
This is using the base game only. I used it as a learning game and also to have a comparison to using the Gates expansion.
Location: Miskatonic University Museum
# Players: 2
P1: Joe Diamond
P2: Darrell Simmons
Ancient One: Ithaqua
Result: Victory, 4 Doom

Three-Play #1, 15-Aug-2015
Location: Streets of Arkham
# Players: 2
P1: Akachi Onyele, Norman Withers
P2: Tommy Muldoon, Carolyn Fern, William Yorick
Ancient One: Shub-Niggurath
Result: Defeat, 0 Elder Signs

Three-Play #2, 19-Aug-2015
Location: Streets of Arkham
# Players: 2
P1: Carolyn Fern
P2: Tommy Muldoon
Ancient One: Yibb-Tstll
Result: Defeat, 8/12 Elder Signs

Three-Play #3, 20-Aug-2015
Location: Streets of Arkham
# Players: 2
P1: Bob Jenkins
P2: Skids O'Toole, Kate Winthrop
Ancient One: Atlach-Nacha
Result: Defeat, 1/13 Elder Signs

Post-Play, 20-Aug-2015
This is using the base game mixed with the basic components of the Gates expansion. Again, I wanted on final comparison between the two starting locations.
Location: Miskatonic University Museum
# Players: 2
P1: Akachi Onyele
P2: Dexter Drake
Ancient One: Yig
Result: Victory, 10/10 Elder Signs, 1 Doom

Conclusion
Well, a bit to my surprise, I really like this game. As stated above and other places, I'm not sure I'm a dice game kinda guy. Games with lots of die rolls are pretty hit and miss with me. But I'm happy to say that I enjoyed all five plays I had this week of Elder Sign.

The Base game and the Gates expansion seem like two ends of the spectrum in terms of difficulty and complexity. Base is fairly easy. Gates is pretty difficult. Base has a simple ruleset without much extra "stuff." But Gates has a lot more going on, many more actions, modifiers, and interactions between cards. They almost feel like two different games.

The advantages to the Base game: less brain burn, shorter play time, less "stuff" to track and pay attention to.

The advantages to the Gates expansion: more challenging (but maybe too much), a better use of the adventure cards with them entering play face down but with an available action on them, and a more cohesive interaction between all of the cards (adventures, other worlds & gates, and the ancient one).

Right now, I feel as though I want this game to fall somewhere in the middle. While faster playing, there isn't much thinking required playing just the Base game. And while I enjoy the interaction and enhanced experience of the Gates expansion, I think it may become frustrating for me sooner rather than later. I wonder if just switching the two Mythos decks would help?

Each are assigned to go with the matching adventure deck. Some things wouldn't make sense, but the base Mythos deck with the Gates adventure cards might ease up on the spawning of monsters and doom tokens allowing the player to focus more on adventures and closing gates. And putting the Gates Mythos deck with the base adventure cards would create more tension from those monsters and Doom tokens without changing the basics of the gameplay.

Not sure. It might be the worst thing ever. And the other thought is to play a mix of the two. Combine both Mythos decks together. And either combine all adventure cards together, or have three of each on the table at all times. The Gates mechanism from the expansion would still be used as it adds to the thematic nature of the game that is missing from the Base set alone.

Anyway, I really went off on a tangent there. Let me try to get back on topic. The Gates expansion is a must own for this game, IMO. It adds a ton to the game in every sense of the word - challenge, components, narrative. It really does have it all. Overall, Elder Sign is pretty much what I wanted after player Eldritch Horror. It’s smaller in physical presence, game time, and narrative scope. The theme is still not my thing, though. If I’m being honest, I think the Gates expansion is far and above a better thematic experience than the base game, but I really didn’t pay much attention to it. I read the flavor text of the cards, and that’s about all I got in terms of a story. But what I do get is that tension and feel of desperation as more of the bad stuff comes out and gets in your way. So, while I couldn’t tell you a story about my session, I can tell you it felt like a story.

Okay, that was a lot of “exploring” for one little game. I think that’s more than enough of Elder Sign for now. I hope it doesn’t just get lost in the pile of games in my closet though. I’d like to try to find that “right mix” of the two experiences I had with this game. But there are a lot of games that would like some much deserved attention from me, so I’m not sure when this one will see the table again. But for now, I’m looking forward to that day.
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9. Board Game: Mage Knight Board Game [Average Rating:8.11 Overall Rank:20]
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Why This Game?
Because it's Mage Knight, that's why! laugh

Seriously though, unlike the last two games I explored, this is one I already know I enjoy. The "problem" I have is that I've only played this game twice...almost a year ago. And both sessions were the basic Walkthrough scenario. I've barely scratched the surface of this game. And considering I own both the Krang Character Expansion and the Lost Legion Expansion, I've got a lot of exploring to do.

I do have two concerns, though. Similar to Eldritch Horror, this is one of the "big" games in my collection. I haven't played a full scenario yet, so I'm hoping this game will mostly fit on my small game table. I think I'll have to keep most of the tokens off to the side and in the faux-plano box I'm using. Otherwise, everything else will be on the table. We'll see how well this works out for me and my level of annoyance with the play area.

Also, time and complexity will need to be considered for the long haul. I've read the rules. I've watched Rick's videos. This actually isn't that complex of a game, really. There are many rules, specific to the situation that need to be recalled, but I don't see all the exceptions of a game like Dawn of the Zeds. Once I get a play or two under my belt, I think I'll be set for future plays...with some refresher, of course. And so that leaves the time factor.

I'm not the quickest player around, from what I can tell. And I have other games that are longer playing for me that rarely hit the table - Space Empires 4X, for example. If the time it takes me to play this game keep me from pulling down from the shelf, why have it? Will this game get enough plays over time to make it worthwhile for me to keep? I think it so, but it is something for me to keep in mind.

Let's see what happens...

Three-Play #1, 28-Aug-2015
Arythea (v Goldyx)
Solo Conquest
Result: Fail, 101vp
City 5: Green, Unconquered
City 8: White, Conquered

Three-Play #2, 02-Sep-2015
Tovak (v Krang)
Solo Mine Liberation
Result: Fail, 46vp
Mines Liberated: 3 Countryside, 0 Core

Three-Play #3, 05-Sep-2015
Krang (v Norowas)
Solo Blitz Conquest
Result: Fail, 61vp
Cities Conquered: White

Conclusion
Okay, time for my final thoughts. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed this. I thought the game seemed pretty cool a year ago when I played the First Reconnaissance mission twice, but you really don’t see what the game has to offer in terms of its depth. And there is definitely a lot going on here. However, while there are a lot of rules, they are really not that complex. I found them easier and easier to remember with each passing round of play. I had printed out two fan made player aides last year, but I found the two on the back of the rulebook and the walkthrough quite helpful and more than satisfactory. The reference cards with all the different locations can be a little fiddly, but they have all the info I needed, and any question I had was always answered. And unlike Dawn of the Zeds, I didn’t see all the exceptions to the rules which can really bog that other game down. So…lots of rules but not difficult to master.

The gameplay is really great too. The sense of adventure and exploration is fantastic. Building the map as you go is something I’ve always found appealing in a game, and there is a nice mix of tiles in the base game with various locations and monsters to discover, fight, and conquer. Speaking of which, combat is basically a puzzle. You don’t always know what monster you’re going to fight but with the aide on the back of the walkthrough booklet, you can have a general idea. So, you know you’re going to need a certain amount of block and a certain amount of attack to obtain success. It’s a matter of what combination of cards and mana in your possession will help you accomplish this goal. Over the course of the game, new cards will enter your deck and new Units will be added to your tableau, so to speak. It’s deckbuilding but on a much more subtle scale. The impact of those cards and Units are greater here than a single card in most other deckbuilding games, and I find that very interesting.

I played one full scenario and two of the shorter ones. I have mixed feelings regarding this. The game is long…in any scenario, IMO. And I’m afraid that will hold it back somewhat from further plays in the future. The full scenario is definitely the way to go if you have the time and space for it. The level up system seems to be built for it. You can take your time, go on several side quests, build your deck up, increase your skills, and add Units to your reinforcements. Then, you head into the endgame ready for action. With the shorter scenarios, I liked…well, that they’re shorter. But they also feel rushed in terms of the game itself. You’re basically focused only the endgame and just hitting the side quests that are close by, hoping to gain just enough to meet your goals. I felt like I am missing out on of part of the game in these two shorter scenarios. I still had a lot of fun with them, and I certainly still had to think about every move I made. But like First Reconnaissance, you’re not quite getting the “full” experience. If you’re more pressed for time, though, I think these are a great option to get your fix.

So, overall, a definite winner. The game is a great design of many mechanisms that all work together to give the player a real sense of adventure and accomplishment. Being able to level up your character helps add to the experience and the connection you have with that hero, giving a bit of an RPG flavor to the game. And of course, the game almost seems built for specifically for solo play. It’s deep, challenging, and fun in a way that you want a solitaire experience to be. But it is long. And it can feel fiddly with all those components – tiles, cards, minis, tokens, more cards, crystals, even more cards, two player boards. But if you want that fully engrossing experience, Mage Knight can certainly offer that for those with the time and space for it.

But….how does this rank in my collection? Is it the best “big” game I own? Well….I’m not quite sure yet. Right now, I want to say Gears of War is still the better game for me and what I look for in a game. Probably the biggest factor in this is the theme. I do enjoy the fantasy setting with the dragons and travelling across the land on a quest and all that, but I’m certainly more of a sci-fi kinda guy. Gears has a lot of stuff I enjoyed in Mage Knight, including that exploration (to a lesser extent, certainly), the sense of adventure, and accomplishing that goal or quest. But the sci-fi setting is just more appealing. Space Empires 4X also has a wonderful exploration phase that I love. And it has a “level up” of sorts as you build your fleet and increase your techs. Plus you have that seek and conquer aspect to the gameplay as well.

What I’d like to do is get in a least one play of Gears of War in the near future for comparison’s sake and see how it holds up against Mage Knight. If I do, I’ll post a quick update here for reference.
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After some reflection, I've decided to take a semi-pause in my Exploration. I'm taking a cue from Gary and his current project:

Picking My Top 20 Solo Games (in time for the People's Choice Top 100)

This year's People's Choice Awards is coming up soon, and I've been wondering what to do to prepare for it. Gary is basically going all in, playing all of his previous Top 20 games and any that may have the potential to break into it this year....and play them all five times each. (hopefully)

That's a bit too much for the time I have available, but I am very interested in playing my Top 20 from last year to see how they are holding up for me. So, I'm going to make a run at playing every game I submitted last year at least once in the coming weeks. However, I'm going to mark two of them as played since I did an Explore of them recently. The rest, I will make the effort to play for this Explore posting.

I believe this will give me a good starting point to create my Top 20 for this year's voting. Obviously, this will not take into account any games outside my list from last year or newer acquisitions that have been played since, but I'll have that foundation upon which to build.

Looking over my list, I'm not seeing any "bad" choices or ones that immediately jump out at me as being out of place. There are definite adjustments coming, as well as a few new additions, but I won't reveal my final list for this year until after the main list is published.

For now, I'll track the ones I play as they occur, leave a brief thought or two, and a quick AAR in the comments to this post. And with that, here's my list from last year beginning with #1:

Mo's 2014 Top 20 Solo Games
Friday
Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game
Gears of War: The Board Game
Pandemic
Mage Knight Board Game
Race for the Galaxy
Snowdonia
Ghost Stories
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
Flash Point: Fire Rescue
San Juan
Forbidden Island
Cine-vilzation
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Dawn of the Zeds (Second edition)
At the Gates of Loyang
Utopia Engine
Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp
Carcassonne
Supermarché

The Potentials for 2015
Ascension: Immortal Heroes
Baseball Highlights: 2045
The Castles of Burgundy
Core Worlds
Elder Sign
Freedom: The Underground Railroad
Legends of Andor
Limes
Mound Builders
Navajo Wars
Nemo's War
Shadowrun: Crossfire
Silverton
Space Empires: 4X
Space Infantry
Star Realms
Zulus on the Ramparts!
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11. Board Game: Shadowrun: Crossfire [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:634]
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Why This Game?
First, let me just mention quickly that I am not abandoning the playthrough of my Top 20 (one item above) from last year. I will continue to mix in those plays in and around the single game explorations this list is intended for. Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled program....

Shadowrun: Crossfire has been on my radar for a while now, maybe since its release. There seemed to be a lot of negative comments regarding the game in the early goings, and that caused me to hesitate. Plus...well, you know the story: too many games already.

Anyway, the theme is definitely a draw for me, being a sci-fi guy in general. I'm not overly schooled in the Cyberpunk genre, but it has always attracted me. The mixing of technology and the human is very interesting. Plugging yourself in the Matrix and body enhancements, most likely, aren't my cup of tea if available in the real world, but I really enjoy watching and reading about it.

However, in SR: CF, that genre is mixed with one of typical fantasy tropes. Magic is rampant in the world. Orks, Elves, Trolls, and Dwarfs are all part of metahumanity. Dragons can rule over massive corporations. It's a pretty cool idea.

On the surface, this appears to be a typical deckbuilder...start with small deck of cards, buy more, play cards, and repeat. But I think there is more to it than that. I've played two learning games in recent days, and I can see there is more involved than that already. Cooperation seems to be a very high priority in this game. The characters have to work together to survive.

Also, somewhat similar to a game like Mage Knight (a recent Exploration game for me), the mechanism is more subtle than in your standard deckbuilding game. You will not be accumulating a large deck of cards by the end of the game. Every choice you make is important and potentially directly related to the outcome of your mission.

Hm, I'm starting to get into the meat of the exploration before even posting my first official play! That should show you how excited I am to get into this game. Speaking of which, one of the things I find extra special about this is its RPG-like level up system. Shadowrun was originally (and still is) a full-on RPG. Some minor RPG elements are here as well. There are "only" three missions in the box, but I don't think you should look at them like that. Each one is a building block for the next. You'll need to play each one 5...10...maybe more...times each before moving on.

Your characters have to build up Karma to improve themselves and gain upgrades that they will need to continue into the later missions. So with that being said, I'm in no hurry to rush through the game. In fact, I'm going to treat this, on a smaller level, as an RPG-like game. I intend to so some (very) basic character setup and background. And I'd like to add some flavor to the missions my characters go on. So, we'll see how that goes for me. I have zero experience with RPGs.

Finally, since mission attempts are rather quick and will take some time to master, I think I'll consider something like 2-5 mission attempts as one exploration play. Alright, enough rambling...time to play!

Three-Play #1, 19-Sep-2015
Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 1 of 2
Face: Clint
Street Samurai: Grog
Result: Successful Abort, +1 Karma (1)

Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 2 of 2
Face: Clint
Street Samurai: Grog
Result: Failed Abort

Three-Play #2, 26-Sep-2015
Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 1 of 3
Decker: Grog
Mage: Clint
Result: Failed Abort

Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 2 of 3
Decker: Grog
Mage: Clint
Result: Successful Abort, +1 Karma (2)

Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 3 of 3
Mage: Clint
Decker: Grog
Result: Failed abort

Three-Play #3, Part 1, 27-Sep-2015
Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 1 of 2
Street Samurai: Grog
Mage: Clint
Result: Failed Abort

Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 2 of 2
Street Samurai: Grog
Mage: Clint
Result: Mission Success, +3 Karma (5)

Three-Play #3, Part 2, 02-Oct-2015
Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 1 of 1
Street Samurai: Grog (Cigar Money)
Mage: Clint (Got Your Backs)
Result: Mission Success, +3 Karma (8)

Mission: Crossfire
Attempt: 1 of 1
Street Samurai: Grog (Cigar Money)
Mage: Clint (Got Your Backs)
Result: Mission Success, +3 Karma (11)

Conclusion
Okay, I think it’s time I give my Exploration thoughts on this one. I could (and will) keep going into an unforeseeable end with this game right now, but for the purpose of this geeklist, it’s time to move forward. This will come to no surprise at this point….great, great game. I’m so loving this one right now; it’s becoming a bit of an obsession. I’m constantly thinking about it when I’m away from the table, and I have to force myself not to break it out now so I can get some other games into the rotation.

I have to say up front that I saw the complaints that many have reported previously on this game, but after two learning games and nine more campaign plays, I have to disagree. The two main things that folks seem to focus on are the luck and the difficulty. In terms of luck, this game doesn’t have any more or less than any other, similar style card game I’ve played (Friday, Legendary Marvel, Ascension). It’s a deck of cards, several actually. At some point, the cards will completely go against you and then they will completely favor you. But for the majority of the time, it will fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve played games of Legendary where all of the Scheme Twists have ended up at the top of the deck and completely destroyed me before I could even start to build up my deck. But more often than not, I get a good shuffle and the game plays out just fine. Same here. Sometimes there will be a perfect storm of Obstacles and Event cards that will just punish you. But that’s not going to happen every time you sit down with this game. It’s just the nature of a card game in general.

For difficulty, I feel there is a learning curve involved. The game is tough. I lost my first eight games. But I’ve now won the last the three in a row. I believe the difficulty here is in learning how not to play it like a standard deckbuilder. In Shadowrun, you’ll only be adding a few new cards to your deck. You begin with seven, and you might have twelve by the end. Most likely even less, depending on how expensive the cards are you buy. Every purchase you make will directly affect the outcome of your game. And buying the “best” card in the offer will not get you a win. In that last play, I had three 9-cost cards in the offer all at the same time. These are the “best” cards available to your Runner. I had 11 Nuyen to spend, but I specifically chose not to purchase any of those cards. Instead I picked up two other cards that comboed together to help me defeat the Obstacles in front of us.

And that’s the key point right there. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I keep bringing this game back to Mage Knight in my mind. If you removed everything from Mage Knight other than your starting deck, the advanced actions deck, and the pile of enemy tokens, you’re left with….Shadowrun: Crossfire. You’re looking at a (mostly) known quantity of an enemy. And you have a specific hand of cards at the ready. How are you going to survive? You’ll be able to add one new, more powerful card to your hand for the next one. Which one will it be? You can see what’s still waiting for you. You need to strategize how best to accomplish your goal while still thinking about what’s to come.

And. It. Is. Awesome.

Okay, I feel I should give at least one negative here. Narrative. Or story. There is almost none in this game. Yes, you’ll definitely have an emotional ride of ups and downs in terms of survival and success, but the Obstacles, Events, and Missions are completely unconnected to each other. Now, I’ve tried to counter that somewhat buy doing some very minor roleplaying. I’ve created a bit of a backstory for my two Runners. And for each mission that we’ve gone on, I’ve tried to come up with some flavor text to give it a more personal feel. I’m not sure I’ll keep that up over time or not. Partly, it’s a time thing; sometimes I just want to sit down and get right to the action. And partly, it’s that I’m not that creative. I’ve read the RPG primer that comes with the game, but that’s the extent of my knowledge of that world. At some point, I’m just going to be repeating myself in terms of storylines.

And so with that, I’ll conclude here. I’m very happy that I gave this game a chance after eyeing for so long. It’s crunchy. Challenging. Different. Cool art. Great theme (even if the story doesn’t come through). It’s what I love about solo gaming. And it keeps calling me back for more.

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12. Board Game: Nemo's War (second edition) [Average Rating:8.17 Overall Rank:508]
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Why This Game?
Well, duh!

I was lucky enough to be sent a final beta prototype of the game prior to next month's (planned for late December 2015) Kickstarter. The second edition offers updated components, art, graphic design, and gameplay. It's still Nemo's War; just better.

I plan to explore this one in depth....so in depth that I won't post everything here as I have with other Explorations on this list. Instead, I'll just post links to the main exploration thread on the 1PG. I will update this post with my Conclusion, and I may post my AARs as comments still here as well to keep some consistency with the rest of the list.

The components (including art and graphic design), the rulebook, and a comparison between the two editions will be some of the Topics of Discussion along the way. I'm really looking forward to seeing where this exploration takes me. I'm already a fan of the first edition (see the first post in this list, in fact), so I can only foresee good things to come with the new edition.

Topics of Discussion
The Basics, posted 11-Nov-2015
Components, posted 14-Nov-2015
Play Session #1, posted 14-Nov-2015
Play Session #2, posted 19-Nov-2015
Rulebook, posted 21-Nov-2015
Play Session #3, posted 22-Nov-2015
Comparison Between the two Editions, posted 22-Dec-2015
Final Thoughts, posted 28-Dec-2015
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13. Board Game: Seven-up game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Why these games?
I submitted my Solo Top 20 to Kevin a couple of days ago, and during the process of creating the list, I re-evaluated all of my ratings for games still in my collection. Not surprisingly, I have a lot of games (IMO, of course); more than I can play on a regular basis.

My list of solitaire games was 60 positions long (not including three games still unplayed - ugh!). However, maybe 8-10 of those were one-time tries with a solo variant that didn't grab me (Risk) or games I'm keeping in my collection because my family will play them on occasion and I've played using a solo variant (Stone Age) but wouldn't normally keep just for solitaire sessions.

So I'm talking about a solid 50 solitaire games in my collection, give or take. But I was thinking, "why have a rating system if I'm not going to put it to some use?" This has led me to this entry in my Exploration. Similar to my quick-ish runthrough of my Solo Top 20 from last year a couple of entries above, I'm going to play several of my 7-Rated games to see if should keep them in my collection.

For my purposes, a 7-Rated game is a "Good" game. It's one I enjoy. It's one I want to have in my collection. But it's also one that will probably be overlooked by a higher ranked game when making that choice for coveted table time.

I'm telling myself to have no mercy during this process, but even just looking at the list, I see several I'm pretty sure won't be hitting the trade pile. But who knows?! That's why I'm doing this. I'm going to use the following symbols for reference:

= to be played
C = it's a keeper
X = it's a goner

I'll post my reasoning in the comments section below as I progress through the games. To kick things off, I've already decided on a couple of goners - see the comments section. And I left one 7-Rated game off the list, Silverton, because I want to give that it's own full Exploration entry.

Wish me luck!

C APBA Pro Baseball
X Card City
C Elder Sign
C Forbidden Desert
C Gem Rush
X Hostage Negotiator
X Lord of the Rings
C Ogre - Pocket Edition
X The Phantom League
X Struggle for the Galactic Empire
X Sylvion
X Zulus on the Ramparts!
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Note: This will be re-posted to the metalist of Top 20s when it becomes available. So read it now or later...your decision.

Mo's Solo Top 20 (2015 Edition)

Well, I was going to wait to reveal my list until after the main list was complete, but I see Kevin is estimating the final reveal to be around the 17th. Yikes! That's a crazy long time to wait. Last year only took six days; not sure why it's taking so long this time around. Anyway, so I decided not to wait any longer. Enjoy...

Below is my Solo Top 20 list, including my current Ratings (Overall/Solitaire, 10/3 being the highest). Included are a brief comment or two on the game and why it is where it is. Also, I put some additional game categories at the bottom showing what fell out of my Top 20 and what might be there for the next one.

#1 N
Gears of War: The Board Game
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: #3
Comments: This is my new #1. It basically checks off every gamer box I want: modular board & exploration, multi-use cards, hand management, sci-fi theme, great AI system (although it can be gamed a bit), wonderful components. Great, great game. Always fun and tense. I know nothing of the IP, so I think of this as my Aliens game of choice.


#2 N
Mage Knight Board Game
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: #5
Comments: Last year, I had only played the intro scenario when I ranked it. This year, I played several of the scenarios and really saw what this game offers. It's not better than Gears, but it's definitely up there when it comes to a solitaire game experience.


#3 N
Snowdonia
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: #7
Comments: My top Eurogame. I continue to stand by my statement: this is the epitome of Euro-y goodness...smooth mechanisms, resource conversion, and efficiency of gameplay. Add in all the wonderful scenarios available and not only do you have a great game, you have an amazing game system. Love it.


#4
Shadowrun: Crossfire
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: New this year
Comments: Wow! What a game. If you took Mage Knight and stripped away everything but your deck of cards and the enemy tokens, you'd get Shadowrun: Crossfire. So thinky. So challenging. Amazing cardplay. If I had any expansions for this yet, it'd probably be a little higher on the list. Biggest surprise of the year for me.


#5 N
Race for the Galaxy
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: #6
Comments: RftG has one of the best solo AI systems around. Add to that the great artwork, fun cardplay, and a plethora of paths to take to defeat...or, uh, victory...hopefully...and you've got yourself a winner in my book.


#6 N
At the Gates of Loyang
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: #16
Comments: Loyang is another game that I hadn't really gotten into when I ranked it last year. I have several more plays this time around, and it has shown me how great a solo game this really is. Lovely wooden components just add to the pleasure of this puzzly, challenging game.


#7 S
Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game
Current Rating: 10/3
2014 Rank: #2
Comments: Death Angel has been a perennial fave of mine since I began flying solo a few years ago. There is so much awesome packed in such a small box, I'm sure it will continue to rank highly for me again next year. This one is about managing your hand of cards against the Evil Red Die. Tons of replay value at a reasonable price.


#8
Baseball Highlights: 2045
Current Rating: 9/2
2014 Rank: New this year
Comments: Baseball is my favorite sport, and this game captures the feel of a full baseball game in six, quick rounds of play. There are exciting moments, quick back-and-forth cardplay, and fun times. But unless you want to take the time to create the AI deck card by card, it's just a random assortment of cards...although still challenging more often than not.


#9 EW
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
Current Rating: 8/3
2014 Rank: #9
Comments: No movement on the charts for this one. Just a really fun deckbuilder with great artwork. I don't feel like a superhero playing this one, but I definitely get the sense of being a group of superheroes fighting off evil from wreaking havoc and causing mayhem. Tons of scenarios and replay with an expansion or two.


#10 S
Pandemic
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: #4
Comments: Another one of the "classics" for me. I believe this was the first co-op game I ever played, and I loved it. Still do. I always play three-handed and enjoy the challenge of controlling the spread of disease throughout the world. Great use of special characters & actions and that AI system for spreading diseases across the globe.


#11 N
Space Empires: 4X
Current Rating: 8/2
2014 Rank: #35
Comments: Even though I need to play this more to really get a grip on all its awesomeness, I can't help but rank it highly. I love the sci-fi setting, the tech-tree style buildup of your space fleet, and the vast expanse of the universe on that great gameboard. This was my first experience with a game using a ton of counters, and it was so easy to get into. Need, need, need to play this more.


#12 S
Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Current Rating: 8/3
2014 Rank: #10
Comments: Flash Point is a strongly thematic co-op of controlling a local fire brigade as they try to rescue potential victims from various settings and douse the ever-unpredictable flames consuming said setting. Turns go by very quickly, and the multitude of new maps offers lots of replay.


#13 N
Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp
Current Rating: 8/3
2014 Rank: #18
Comments: I very much enjoy this "little" puzzle of a game. You need to find the antidotes for a constantly mutating virus running rampant around the world. Lives are at stake, but the humor of the event deck is what adds to the fun of this one for me. Very much enjoy this game from Victory Point Games small box line.


#14 S
Ghost Stories
Current Rating: 8/3
2014 Rank: #8
Comments: A very tough co-op with fantastic art and components. You need to plan out every move and use every ounce of help you can get to be successful fighting off the constant stream of evil beings attacking the village. The game can be frustratingly difficult but also satisfying even in defeat.


#15 S
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Current Rating: 8/2
2014 Rank: #14
Comments: This is another really tough co-op game. In fact, I haven't won this yet in eight attempts of various scenarios. But what a narrative it creates along the way! If this isn't telling a story as you play, you must be at a different table. However, it does walk that fine line between frustration and excitement for me. I'm curious to see where this one lands for me next year.


#16 S
Friday
Current Rating: 10/3
2014 Rank: #1
Comments: My former #1 sees a big drop in the ranking, but that doesn't mean I think any less of it - just check out my rating for it. However, after more than 100 plays of this great, little, solo-only deckbuilder, I just don't break it out all that often any more. This is still my very first suggestion to anyone new to solo gaming and wants to see what it's all about. It's fun, challenging, and portable, with a low cost of entry. I basically look at it as a super-filler these days. But it will always remain one of my favorites.


#17
Limes
Current Rating: 9/3
2014 Rank: New this year
Comments: This is the best solo filler game currently on the market, IMO. And the only one to make my Top 20. I love the puzzly aspect of trying to maximize the placement of every card and every worker. The random draw of cards mixed with a variety of variants and mini-expansions have made this one of my most-played games. Plus, it's pretty to look at.


#18 N
Nemo's War (First Edition)
Current Rating: 8/2
2014 Rank: #30
Comments: Yet again another game that I had only played minimally last year but delved into in 2015. While the components may be subpar, they do not detract from this game creating a strong narrative of Captain Nemo and his adventures in the Nautilus. This is a game I shouldn't enjoy (it's basically flip a card, roll 2d6, and repeat). But it captures that story so well, I can't help but enjoy every minute of it.


#19 N
Core Worlds
Current Rating: 8/3
2014 Rank: #37
Comments: Here we have the only game in my Top 20 that isn't solitaire specific nor comes with a solo variant out of the box. That has to mean the SoloPlay rules for this one rock. And yes, they do. Another sci-fi themed game, this time in deckbuilding form. I love how you can create a fleet of ships and then release them upon the planets you want to conquer. And the SoloPlay AI system is fantastic as it reacts to every action you choose. This causes much AP (in the best way) as you need to calculate out every move of each round before taking that first action. Great stuff.


#20 N
Ascension: Immortal Heroes
Current Rating: 8/2
2014 Rank: #29
Comments: And I'll wrap up my Top 20 with another deckbuilder. This one is fairly light but a lot of fun. I created my own solo variant as the official one was bit too generic for my tastes. I have Immortal Heroes mixed with the Apprentice Edition to create a nice sized deck of cards with lots of options and extras to keep me happy at the game table. This one is all about the card combos and scoring those Honor points...and having a good time doing so.




The Drop Outs
These are the games that fell out of my Top 20 but are still in my collection:

#24 Forbidden Island
2014 Rank: #12
Comments: Still the best fun-to-cost ratio of any game in my collection. However, theses days, I basically play it as a filler. I don't play above Normal difficulty and almost always win. It's just a relaxing, fun, and great-looking game that I enjoy when I'm not in the mood for thinky.

#27 Dawn of the Zeds (Second edition)
2014 Rank: #15
Comments: This game is like playing out a zombie movie using cardboard and a couple of dice. Great atmosphere and theme, but the rules exceptions are brutal. I am unsure of its place in my collection right now. I plan to find out in 2016.

#37 Carcassonne
2014 Ranking: #19
Comments: This is the game that brought me into the hobby, and it remains my favorite game overall. I love the SoloPlay variant for this one, but I've come to the understanding that there are some truly great solo games out there for this to compete against. I'll always own this one. And I'll continue to play it alone.

#39 San Juan
2014 Ranking: #11
Comments: This is an excellent card game. And just like Carc, it has a lovely SoloPlay variant that I've played dozens of times. But also like Carc, it needs to stand up next to dedicated solitaire games, and that's a tough thing to accomplish these days.

And if you're counting (or if you're even still reading at this point!), you'll notice the number of items that dropped off doesn't match the number of new entries in the Top 20. That is because I made a conscious choice not to include any PnP games this year. It's a personal choice I made for personal reasons. I love my PnP game collection. I've just decided to keep it separate from the published games I own. Again, it's just personal, and I'm very excited to see the PnP games that have made the overall Top 100 list. They are definitely deserving.



Juuuuust a Bit Outside
These are the games outside of the Top 20 that I feel are contenders but just haven't hit the table enough yet for me to make a final decision.

#21 Space Infantry
2014 Rank: New this year
Comments: I only played this a couple of times a few months ago. They were all of the first Mission, mainly to learn the rules and get a feel for the gameplay. And I really, really enjoyed it. However, I didn't think it was enough to pass final judgement. I want to get into the advanced rules and the campaign mode. I expect this to easily make my Top 20 next year.

#25 Freedom: The Underground Railroad
2014 Rank: #21
Comments: Again, a game I've only played 2 or 3 times. I like it a lot. The theme is quite strong. The production is really nice, especially that big gameboard. It just needs the table time. My concern is that the theme is too heavy for multiple plays in a short time frame. That doesn't mean it's a good/bad game, just not easy to grab off the shelf.

#28 Mound Builders
2014 Ranking: New this year
Comments: This game seems to be pretty hit or miss for the 1PG crowd. So far, I'm on the hit side, but I've only played twice...and I realized afterwards that I was missing three cards. I really love the three act structure this game uses, and the theme is very appealing. But after I decided Zulus on the Ramparts was fun but not staying in my collection and Zeds being very tough rules-wise, I'm waiting to see if it's a States of Siege thing or just the specific game. I hope this remains a hit, though.

#42 Navajo Wars
2014 Ranking: New this year
Comments: I really like the theme of this game, and it seems to have some really neat game mechanisms. But it's a "big" game in my collection, and I've only played two learning games of the basic scenario. It's been a bit of a thorn in my side that I want to give this a fair shake. It's high on my To Do List for 2016 (and for Justin).



My Hero, Zero
Here are a couple of games I own but have yet to get to the table at all. Sad face.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases: I've had this one for about a year and half now. Man, I'm a loser. I'm a Sherlock fan (but not a fanboy) in general, so I think I'm really going to like this. I keep waiting for the "right" moment, though, to break it out. I need to just do it.

Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident: This one I've only had for a month or so; not too bad. Looks like a really cool game, with a great sci-fi theme going on. I'm excited to give it a go.



Back to the Future
These are games that I don't even own yet but might make the list next year. Hear that Top 20 games? You've been put on notice!

Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game: Top of my Wishlist. Hmm, the next iteration of the Death Angel system? Ummmmm....YEAH!

Runebound (Third Edition): Watched a couple of videos and read some AARs. Yep...I'm all in.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1: Already love Pandemic. And this sounds like one of the best game experiences around at the moment.

Oh and some fancy new version of a game already in my Top 20. Perhaps you've heard me mention it? Nemo's War (second edition).



If you've made it this far, thanks for putting up with all the navel gazing going on. Apologies.

If you have any questions about my collection (published or PnP), just ask.

Thanks.
Mo
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15. Board Game: Silverton [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:1418]
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Why This Game?
Wow, it feels like forever since I last did a full Exploration. I've had this lined up since my last one, Shadowrun: Crossfire. But I got caught up in playing all my Top 20 games from 2014 so I could make my list for 2015. Then, unexpectedly, I was sent a preview copy of the new Nemo's War...just had to dive into that right away. And finally, I decided to run through all my 7-rated games to see how many of those should truly stay in the collection (five stay, seven go...not bad!). So while I've been playing lots of different games, I haven't really explored much recently. And so, let's get back to it:

This is a game I've owned for quite a while...maybe summer/autumn of 2014? I've only played twice, almost a full year ago. Both of those sessions were of the basic $6000 Denver scenario. According to my play log, I did enjoy them, but they were mainly learning sessions. What I'm more interested in is the longer scenarios and the advanced rules. I'm hoping they hold some interesting gameplay and will provide me with the solitaire train game I've been seeking for some time now.

I used to own Steam and played it several times solo. Ultimately, I decided it should be played as intended...multiplayer. Great game. Really loved the route building aspect and filling the map. Also, I've been very curious about the 18xx series of train games. I only know what I've heard and read on BGG, but those do not seem very solitaire friendly. I understand Silverton doesn't really fill either of those train styles, but I think it may still fill that train game niche I'm interested in playing. So, let's find out.

Exploration Play #1, 13-Jan-2016
Scenario: Denver $10K
Surveyors: 2
Prospectors: 1
Trains: 9, 15, 24
Snowplows: 0
Result: DNF, $1380, Turn 7
(no, not like that!)

Exploration Play #2, 18-Feb-2016
Scenario: Denver $10K
Surveyors: 2
Prospectors: 1
Trains: 42, 42, 42
Snowplows: +4
Game End: $10,790 / Turn 14
Result: Substantial Victory


Exploration Play #3, 20-Feb-2016
Scenario: Copper Spike Solitaire
Surveyors: 2
Prospectors: 2
Trains: 72, 72, 72, 72
Snowplows: +3, +4, +5, +5
Game End: $49,510 / Turn 24
Result: Marginal Victory


Conclusion
Silverton takes place in the southwest USA. It is a combination route building and stock market game where the player must make connections between cities and towns to deliver goods and passengers in the hopes of making money. The more the better. But there is a fluctuating market for the various goods being sold, most of which is affected by random die rolls but also partly because of how much you sell in a given turn. The player must deal with this ever changing landscape of market prices to make the most money possible within the timeframe of the chosen scenario.

The game can be played in various lengths: short, medium, or long. And the long campaign is definitely that...long, several hours so. But while they all have the same basic concept (make a profit), the differences between the types of scenarios can be quite enjoyable. You may have to focus on Passenger routes more in one than the other. A steady supply of Coal might be good for one but not the other. Hitting up those high priced Silver and Copper mines as soon as possible might be good for all scenarios but especially so in the shorter ones.

I believe the medium length scenario is easily my favorite. I haven’t played the short one since I first learned the game more than a year ago, so I should give that a try again at some point. And while the long one I played was interesting and offered a different aspect to the gameplay (in terms of the importance of the Passenger routes and the logistics of connecting two separate rail systems into one large one), it began to feel somewhat tedious in the later rounds. With that being said, I’m sure I’ll get into another long session at some point as it I did enjoy it overall. There is a certain satisfaction to playing out a complete session such as that. The medium scenarios ($10K) seem like a nice mix of the other two. Planning is certainly needed to succeed. Passengers are important but will only get you so far. And the randomness of the market and card draw for Claims will be mitigated somewhat over the slightly longer timeframe.

In regards to the randomness, there is a lot of die rolling in this game. A lot. I use eight dice of four different colors to help speed up the process as you'll need to roll for each of the different goods/market combos at the end of every game turn. Plus, you'll need to roll for every Claim you want to produce that turn as well. Throughout the game, the player will purchase Claims of varying goods types in the hopes they will produce a large quantity of product, which he will later sell for profit. These Claims are drawn from a large deck of cards and may not always match up with the current state of your rail system. There must be a train route connecting the Claim to one of the main market cities (Denver, Pueblo, etc). So not only is the player looking to maximize the fluctuating market by purchasing Claims and producing goods to sell, he must also be sure to make a rail system that will work within those choices.

Over the course of the medium and long scenarios, I don’t feel the randomness is too much of an issue. There will certainly be times when the market drops for no apparent reason or the Claim you just spent good money on was bust the first time you tried to produce goods. But that’s business in a volatile environment such as this one. There will always be another Claim coming up for offer or you can even prospect the top card of the deck hoping for something special. Plus, just as importantly, that luck can roll in your favor, jumping a price up a couple of ticks just when you’ve mined a handful of Gold for sale.

I used the Advanced Rules for Trains and Snow Plows in my recent plays. I really like these additions to the basic gameplay. In my plays, the Trains didn’t hurt my delivery system much due to their space limitations, and I didn’t have any issues with purchasing new trains or upgrading old ones, so I guess you could argue in favor of just not using them. And it does add some extra bookkeeping and math to the game, but I didn’t find it cumbersome. For me, it added flavor to the gameplay and helped create the world of a train game.

The Snow Plows seemed pretty useless when I first learned the game, but over these recent plays, I found them to be quite helpful to my overall plans and logistics. Silverton has quite a thematic feel to it as you build up your rail system based on the Claims in your possession. The price of goods will fluctuate as you look to sell the right goods at the right moment. Weather comes in to play as well for every fourth turn is winter. This will cause some connections to be unusable because of being snow covered. There is a lot of planning (and math!) involved in this game, and it’s a fun ride.

I don’t ever remember having any special interest in trains growing up. I mean, I’ve always thought of them as being neat and interesting and an important part of our nation’s history. But for almost as long as I've been in the hobby, I've been interested in finding a train game that would fit into my solitaire-centric collection, and I'm pleased that Silverton is that game. It has both the routing building aspect that I’ve enjoyed in other games like Steam, and it has an interesting and variable market system that forces the player to both react and plan within its system to create a challenging and fun experience.
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16. Board Game: Paperback [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:312]
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Why This Game?
While I'm waiting for my game table to re-emerge from being under siege (see first Silverton play above), I figured I'd post some thoughts on this one. I just got this in trade last week. Deckbuilders are probably the most prominent genre in my collection, so that's a check in the plus column. And growing up, my solo games of choice were puzzle games (things like Tangoes) and word games.

I would buy magazines of word games a couple times a year and work my through them in my spare time: acrostics, fill-it-ins, cryptograms, and whatnot. I was also a fan of Boggle in my younger days for similar reasons. I've always claimed that my vocabulary is awful, and I stand by that still today. But when you combine words/letters and spacial/logic puzzles, I seem to hold my own. Again, we're not talking genius levels here, but it's something I really enjoy.

So when I saw this game combined Dominion-like deckbuilding with a word game, that seemed like a great chocolate in my peanut butter moment to me. This looks like a lighter game, so this exploration should be on the lighter side as well but hopefully still interesting to follow along to. I didn't want to let the list sit again after trying to get Silverton up and running. Until then, enjoy....

Three-Play #1, 14-Jan-2016
Result: Win
Score: 116


Three-Play #2, 16-Jan-2016
Result: Loss
Score: 97


Three-Play #3, 18-Jan-2016
Result: Loss
Score: 71


Three-Play #4, 21-Jan-2016
Result: Win
Score: 99


Conclusion
Paperback is basically a mashup of Dominion and a word game. You start with a small, weak deck of cards. You play cards, buy cards, and repeat. The twist is that you are forming words with the cards you play. Growing up, I used to play a lot of word games, things like cryptograms, fill-ins, and whatnot. I also played a lot of Boggle as well, so word games are already interesting to me. Combine that with my most owned, and enjoyed, game mechanism, and you should have a easy win in my book.

That's mostly true here. The basic gameplay is just that, though...basic. There is really nothing new and interesting here beyond the fact that you're creating words. That's fun but only for so long. This game, for me at least, plays on the longer side...60 minutes on average. I would have really loved for it to be in that 30-40 minute range, similar to Friday. And when I think of other deckbuilders in my collection, like Shadowrun Crossfire, Legendary Marvel, and Core Worlds, that play out in a similar timeframe, Paperback just doesn't provide that level of complexity and/or interesting gameplay that those do. It's more in line with Star Realms, Dominion, or Ascension, but two to three times longer.

With that being said, I began playing with the included "modules" to help spice things up a bit. These add some much needed, interesting mechanisms to keep the solo player engaged beyond, "What word should I make this turn?" They add some interaction and a little bit of focus to your decisions. And there are easy tweaks that can be made to help with the length of play: less cards in the pyramid, a lower total point value in the pyramid, allowing only four markers on a card to end the game instead of five. So I think there is definitely a happy medium in there for me, and I'm close to finding it.

Overall, I enjoy the game. It's straight up Dominion-style deckbuilding with a word game layered on top. The components are very nice. The card quality is very good. The graphic design is pleasing, which is definitely needed for a word game. And the artwork on the Fame cards is great. The box is a bit odd shaped and sized, with a lid that remains raised above the bottom half of the box. I wouldn't mind having it in the same sized box as Friday or Space Hulk Death Angel instead.

The extra modules included help make the gameplay more interesting. It goes a little long for the level of complexity provided, but it's still a fun time for those who enjoy word games. I do wonder if I'd get a similar game experience from a game like Bananagrams, in a 10-15 session. Obviously, that doesn't have a any deckbuilding elements, but it may also fill that occasional word game itch. Paperback is fun. I think rating it a 7/2 at this point is on target for my collection. It's a solid game with nice components, and I like having a word game mixed into my typical hobby game genres.
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17. Board Game: Helionox: The Last Sunset [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:3788] [Average Rating:7.06 Unranked]
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Why This Game?
Well, due to a couple of unforeseen events over the past two weeks that forced us to leave our home, my game table has yet to be released from the clutches of the Christmas Cleanup Season. Things are looking good for this weekend though. Fingers crossed.

So, while Silverton continues to sit on the sidelines, I'll throw out another (probably lighter again) Exploration for Helionox. It's a small box (very close to Death Angel) deckbuilder with a cool Sci-Fi theme and even cooler artwork. Dave had been talking this up throughout the month of January, and I couldn't resist any longer. My FLGS had several copies available, so I snagged one on my last visit (I try to only go there a few times a year, since I never leave it without lightening my wallet).

As is readily apparent, the combo of Sci-Fi and deckbuilding is right in my wheelhouse, so I expect some good results from this game. I am concerned, though, about several comments regarding the reduced play time for the official solo rules. However, the aforementioned Dave has created a longer solo variant that I'll probably get to sooner rather than later. Also, there are already a couple of other solo scenarios created by fans of the game, so it seems like this little card game should have plenty to explore.

As a preface to this Exploration, I did play one quick learning session using the official solo rules. This was just a quick runthrough of the game. I didn't really track points or anything. Just wanted to get a feel for the cards, the combos, and the gameplay. I made a few mistakes, of course, but we'll see where things go from here.

Exploration Play #1, 04-Feb-2016
Dave's Solo Variant
Architect: Admiral Adsuko Mai
Faction: Bio
Event VPs: 27
Card VPs: 8
Embassies: 4
Total VPs: 39


Exploration Play #2, 04-Feb-2016
Dave's Solo Variant
Architect: Admiral Adsuko Mai
Faction: Transport
Event VPs: 23
Card VPs: 7
Embassies: 3
Total VPs: 33


Exploration Play #3, 06-Feb-2016
Architect: Tiberius, Warp Captain
Faction: Transport
Event VPs: 15
Card VPs: 8
Embassies: 3
Missions: 5
Total VPs: 31


Exploration Play #4, 06-Feb-2016
Architect: Tiberius, Warp Captain
Faction: Cybernetic
Event VPs: 5
Card VPs: 2
Embassies: 1
Missions: 0
Influence: 9
Total VPs: 17, 4 Locales w/ Active Events


Exploration Play #5, 06-Feb-2016
Modified Official Solo
Architect: Admiral Atsuko Mai
Faction: Cybernetic
Event VPs: 18
Card VPs: 3
Embassies: 4
Missions: 0
Influence: 0
Total VPs: 25


Exploration Play #6, 06-Feb-2016
P1: Green
Architect: Elias, The Prophet
Faction: Cybernetic
Event VPs: 3 (1)
Card VPs: 10
Embassies: 2
Missions: 7 (Cyber)
Influence: 22
Total VPs: 44, Win


P2: Black
Architect: Commodore Fontaine
Faction: Bio
Event VPs: 26 (10)
Card VPs: 8
Embassies: 3
Missions: 10 (Def & Bio)
Influence: -4
Total VPs: 43


Exploration Play #7, 09-Feb-2016
The Shadow Conspiracy
MO
Architect: Commodore Fontaine
Faction: Cybernetic
Event VPs: 20
Card VPs: 22
Embassies: 4
Missions: 7
Influence: 19
Total VPs: 72, Win


AI
Architect: Amnon, Cyber Regent
Event VPs: 42
Card VPs: 10
Total VPs: 52


Exploration Play #8, 11-Feb-2016
The Shadow Conspiracy
(modified rules)
MO
Architect: Feint, the Strategist
Faction: Bio
Event VPs: 26
Faction VPs: 14
Embassies: 4
Missions: 5
Influence: 0
Total VPs: 49


AI
Architect: Elias, the Prophet
Event VPs: 42
Faction VPs: 10
Total VPs: 50, Win


Exploration Play #9, 13-Feb-2016
The Shadow Conspiracy
(modified rules)
MO
Architect: Elias, the Prophet
Faction: Bio
Event VPs: 23
Faction VPs: 11
Embassies: 5
Missions: 5
Influence: 0
Total VPs: 44


AI
Architect: Admiral Atsuko Mai
Event VPs: 34
Faction VPs: 16
Total VPs: 50, Win


Conclusion
Alright, I'm still working my way through the Shadow Conspiracy variant, but I think I've seen more than enough to call this one Explored. This is a sci-fi themed deckbuilder that sits comfortably in between Star Realms and Legendary: Marvel in terms of complexity, game length, and physical space. Helionox is a fairly straightforward deckbuilder at its core, but it has a few nice tweaks that make it interesting

First, there is a movement aspect to the game. Now, this isn't the first deckbuilder I've played to have this as the SoloPlay variant for the Core Worlds uses movement to create an extra puzzly nature to the game. Here, though, the movement is more deliberate. There are five locations where Events will erupt, and the player will need to move from one to another to deal with them. Also, each location has a different special action (a basic and strong version) the player can potentially use. This is almost like an additional hand of cards that is always in play for you to use. Combo-ing these actions with the ones in your hand are a key to gain extra VPs along the way.

Speaking of Events, these are not only for endgame VPs. If left unattended, they will block the actions of the locations, essentially taking "cards" away from the player. When first played, they are inactive. The player can remove them through their Defense value, but if not dealt with, they will become active on the following turn. Sometimes their Defense value will change, but more interestingly, they may offer an alternate way to deal with them (like discarding one more cards of a specific Faction, or perhaps allowing you to rid them via a cash payment). This really adds a nice layer to the gameplay as a player who doesn't focus on building up his Defense strength can still overcome Events via alternate methods.

Another aspect I enjoy is newly acquired cards go on top of your deck for immediate draw. And cards not used at the end of your turn are held during the draw phase; then you may chose your hand from all those available. This is a nice way to cycle unwanted cards out of the way as well as give additional options for the player from turn to turn. Cards arrive into your hand quickly, and cards you don't use won't necessarily come right back.

The market for new Faction cards is set up in four draw piles corresponding to the four different Factions. This way, one card from each Faction is always available for purchase. This really allows the player to focus his deck for particular actions. The Defense Faction is just that; mostly for Defense Strength. The Bio Faction allows you to cull cards from your deck. The Cybernetic Faction gives you Influence (endgame VPs) and some deck management. And the Transport Faction gets you around the galaxy without needing to pay.

Add to all this some really nice artwork, a small box (similar to Death Angel), and a reasonable price, Helionox is a really solid, little game. Out of the box, it is only one or two player, but that's all I'm interested in anyway. At the time of this post, I'm enjoying the fan made solo variant, The Shadow Conspiracy, the most. The official solo rules in the box offer a very brief game session and don't allow for full use of the deckbuilding mechanisms found in the 2P game

The Shadow Conspiracy gives an experience closer to the 2P game without adding much in the way of bookkeeping for the AI opponent. It simply acquires one Event and one Faction card each round giving the player a little interaction through the "stealing" of cards. Plus, you'll have a variable score to go up against each time you play. And even better, it adds some fun, puzzly gameplay as the player must manage the market so as not to allow the AI to grab all the high VP Faction cards.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with this game. It isn't super deep, but it has enough going for it to keep me interested, give me some challenge, and work my brain with the puzzly gameplay to maximize my endgame score.
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18. Board Game: Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:367]
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Why This Game?
I'm a big fan of Space Hulk: Death Angel. It's one of three 10-rated games in my collection at the moment. I love the Aliens-like theme. The cardplay is fantastic. I've played it more than fifty times, and I still have yet to use two of the mini expansions. So when I heard about Warhammer Quest ACG, it immediately brought thoughts of Death Angel 2.0 to my mind. It has a similar setup of cardplay through a set of actions cards for each character. There are a number of location cards that must be completed before moving forward in your session. There is a continuous stream of baddies looking to defeat your heroes. And you must resolve that final location's particular requirements to win that session. Add to all that an ongoing campaign system, and I'm pretty excited to get into this game.

The theme here isn't as strong of a pull for me as in Death Angel, but I don't feel any negativity towards it. I'm just not familiar with the Warhammer Quest world. Actually, I'm not familiar with the Space Hulk stuff either, but I found Death Angel, in particular, easy to relate to because of its similarities to Aliens. Anyway, I was super excited to hear about this game when it was first announced, and I thought I'd pick it up the moment it was released. But the holidays and all that distracted me. Then it seemed to go unavailable in the stores. "Thankfully," my close friend, Ryan, decided the game wasn't for him, and I was able to take it off his hands. My anticipation for this game is pretty high, and that has let me down in the past with other games. Still, I have a good feeling about this one, and I'm looking forward to this exploration.

Alright, enough preview; let's do this!

Exploration Play #1, 27-Feb-2016
An Uneasy Alliance
Quest I, A Foul Stench
Warrior Priest
Bright Wizard, defeated
Waywatcher
Ironbreaker

Result: Victory

Exploration Play #2, 29-Feb-2016
An Uneasy Alliance
Quest II, Tracing the Toxicant
Warrior Priest, defeated
Bright Wizard, defeated
Waywatcher, defeated
Ironbreaker, defeated

Result: Failure

Exploration Play #3, 05-Mar-2016
An Uneasy Alliance
Quest III, In Pursuit
Warrior Priest
Bright Wizard
Waywatcher
Ironbreaker

Result: Failure

Exploration Play #4, 05-Mar-2016
An Uneasy Alliance
Quest IV, Firepower
Warrior Priest
Bright Wizard
Waywatcher
Ironbreaker

Result: Victory

Exploration Play #5, 08-Mar-2016
An Uneasy Alliance
Quest V, Waaagh!
Warrior Priest, defeated
Bright Wizard, defeated
Waywatcher, defeated
Ironbreaker, defeated

Result: Failure

Conclusion
As I stated, I’m a big fan of Space Hulk: Death Angel. I’ve played it over fifty times and still rate it highly even though it doesn’t hit the table all that much these days…too many games, ya know. I love the cardplay in Death Angel. How you must puzzle out each turn while still planning ahead for the next round, fighting off the Genestealers as you move through the Space Hulk from location to location. Very thematic, IMO. And I used to own Lord of the Rings LCG and had played that almost fifty times before deciding deck construction just wasn’t in the cards for me. I thought the gameplay was really solid. And tough. But I just didn’t want to deal with all those monthly packs and making/tweaking decks of cards all the time.

That brings us to Warhammer Quest: ACG…which pretty much falls right in the middle of those two from my perspective and gaming experience. It takes elements of both games and combines them like a peanut butter in my chocolate kind of way. It has a similar set of action cards to Death Angel, and you must puzzle out the best use of them from turn to turn to fight off the enemies attacking. And it takes the enemy engagement aspect from LotR LCG by having some enemies in the Shadows and some engaged directly with the characters, sometimes moving back and forth between the two. There is one location in play at a time, which you must explore to move forward and rid yourself of its possibly harmful location effect…a combination of both games.

However, it doesn’t stop there. On top of all this, it adds a campaign mode. A system where both the story and your characters progress over time, as you move from one quest to the next. Your characters will add new abilities, weapons, and actions to their arsenal. Enemies will follow you from one quest to the next because you didn’t defeat them the first time. Do well and complete a quest successfully, and you’ll be rewarded with more goodies. Fail and you won’t gain as much, making it harder on yourself as you go. It all comes together wrapped up in a nice package of adventuring, leveling up, and fighting off the Big Bad.

I really like this game. That doesn’t surprise me as the game is an evolution of two other systems I’m already familiar with and have enjoyed. I was both excited and skeptical of the campaign system when I first got the game. I couldn’t see how moving from one quest to the next when you didn’t complete it successfully would work, but I believe it does. Playing one quest again and again until you win before moving forward isn’t the point. The narrative of the quests is both specific enough and generic enough that your success or failure will coincide with the overall story in either case. Failure means you’ll bring more baggage with you to the next quest. Maybe an enemy will follow you, or an effect of some kind. Success means having the chance of finding more of those special Legendary Gear for your characters, making them stronger as you go, or some other helpful reward…like not having to bring that extra baggage along. It’s a really well put together system.

Enemies are a major part of the game, obviously, and I love how each enemy type is its own system. There are a set of actions found on the enemy cards which causes them to act and react in different ways when they become active. Some enemies may move from the Shadows, sicken a character, and slither off back into the Shadows. Another enemy type might run from a character only to attack from a distance. Some will prey on the character which has the most damage, engaging them and hitting them when they’re down. It’s a fantastic system that adds so much decision and flavor to what might only be a hit-point counter.

When I first began playing I thought having only one campaign in the game was a misstep. However, after playing through each quest, I realized that while, as a whole, they create one long campaign and narrative, each quest is like its own scenario. The set up for each quest will be slightly different. New rules and twists on the gameplay will make each quest have a different feel. When you combine this with having a different group of enemies in play, each quest becomes its own setting and challenge. Some may focus more on traveling. Another more on combat. The player will have to use different and varying sets of action combos to be successful from one quest to the next. I felt like I was playing a different game with each new quest rather than playing just one-fifth of a single game that is taking me several days to complete. Would I have liked to see a second campaign come in the base game? Definitely. But I feel the content of the one campaign is sufficient enough and challenging enough to keep my happy for some time.

But it’s not all roses. I still have yet to try the game with less than four characters, but the rulebook makes it clear that the game is intended to be played with four. The game, of course, can be played with less, and I know that it will work perfectly fine. The only scaling, however, is the number of hit points your characters can take before being defeated. I just don’t see playing a two-character game, for example, will be as cohesive as a four-character one.

When you reach a new location, a varying number of enemies will spawn, some in the Shadows, some immediately engaged with the characters. In one instance, a particular location spawned six enemies, all engaged with my characters. That means each character, in a two-character game, will suddenly have three enemies directly attacking them. This is an extra problem as you can only have three engaged with you at most at any time. So, if there was one or two already staring you down, those extra enemies will hit you for damage, which you cannot block or alter in any way, before moving into the Shadows.

Also, clearly, the character’s action cards are meant to work together. This is very much like the action cards in Death Angel. Each round, you’ll be playing one card from each character. It’s very rare that you’re going to play a card that has a singular effect on the state of the game. Every action taken will need to work in conjunction with the next action to be played. Which in turn, works with the next. And so on. Again, without direct experience myself, I can see a two-character session being more of a struggle. The rules say in a two-character game that each one will take two actions per round…because the game is intended to be played with four, remember. So, you’ll still take the same number of actions no matter how many character you have, but it seems to me that you’re just limiting your overall chance of card/action combos by not having all four available to you.

Death Angel works better in its scaling because an action only exhausts for one turn, no matter what. You use a card and it’s not available the next turn. After that one, it is automatically back in play. In WQ, an action is exhausted until an effect makes it ready again. Each character has one action card that resets all of their actions for use. Also, some actions will allow a different character to ready one card. This is the major decision point in the game…when to use actions to both affect the current game state as well as to bring exhausted actions back into play. By having less than four characters, you’re just limiting yourself. One pair of characters may work well together, while another may not. By having all four in play, you at least give yourself the opportunity to fit all the pieces together. Whether or not you do that successfully is the point of the game, of course.

I bring all this up because playing a four-character session solo becomes more fiddly and complex the further into the campaign you go. In the first quest or two, there are less cards in play, less actions to take, less modifiers to track. But because this is a campaign game and effects, cards, and modifiers all move with you from one quest to the next, they begin to fill up both the table space and player’s headspace. Each quest has its own “twist” to the rules that you need to remember as well. There can be a lot going on. I was able to manage it, but only just so, by the end. The fifth (and final) quest was my limit. I feel like I kept missing a modifier or two, which I had to recalculate. Some action cards increase in strength, but also in how much they affect other things in the game, so there is much more to consider when planning out your turn in the fifth quest as compared to the first.

This is why I sold off games like Sentinels of the Multiverse. A fantastic game, but I just couldn’t keep up with all the modifiers and this card will affect this one but not this other one. But that one also affects the first. And so on. It became work, rather than fun. I like complex games. I like long games. But I can only handle so much, I’ve learned as I’ve progressed through the hobby. Right now, Warhammer Quest: ACG is on the cusp of my personal limit at the end of the campaign (the first two-thirds are fine). To remedy this, I want to use only two characters. I think this would be a great solution. Sadly, I’m not sure I will enjoy the gameplay as much. It’s something I will definitely explore when I break out the game for another run at the campaign. Time will tell.

Okay, I feel like I’m rambling too much. Maybe I should just skip to the conclusion.

Overall, this is a great game. It takes elements from both Space Hulk: Death Angel and Lord of the Rings LCG and combines them into a fantastic campaign system of adventuring and character progression. I love how the outcome of one quest will carry over into the next, both good and bad. Your characters will find new gear to wield, improved actions to take. Enemies are wonderfully evil, having a different set of characteristics for each type. They will act in different ways from each other and have different strengths and weaknesses, just like the hero characters. Combine that with the varying gameplay twists of each quest and you’ll be in a different setting for each one. There is a puzzly aspect to the cardplay I enjoy. You aren’t playing individual character actions to fight off what’s in front of you. You are looking to play a set of cards each round that, when combined, will give you the best hope of success in the whole scope of the game state. It’s a game of cooperation amongst a group of heroes to overcome the evil forces they are facing. And it won’t be easy. But it will be fun.

Addendum
Exploration Play #6, 20-Mar-2016
An Uneasy Alliance
Quest I, A Foul Stench
Warrior Priest, defeated
Ironbreaker, defeated

Result: Failure, 0 Progress on Grump's Sump

Decided to try out the two-hero experience. See comments below or just click the link above to get there to read my thoughts on the experience.
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19. Board Game: Navajo Wars [Average Rating:7.97 Overall Rank:1146]
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Why This Game?
This is the reason I created this list...both this game specifically and this type of game. A "big" game. A long game. A deep game. I've actually played this twice before, but it was only the intro scenario. And it was just over a year ago. Plus, I haven't explored a big game on this list since Mage Knight way back in August and September of last year.

It's time.

I'm pretty confident that I'll like this one, but you never know. Will I enjoy the game length? What about the slow-ish gameplay as I'll be needing to confirm rules and check charts and of course, fumble my way through some semblance of a workable strategy? Is it just too big of a game for me? I've been playing a lot of quicker games, lots of deckbuilders in recent months. Games with "lighter" themes. Will a historic game draw me in?

These are the questions I'm hoping to answer. At the moment, I want to play the three main scenarios of the game. This will cover the complete history presented by the game. And this exploration will take a while. I'm not sure how detailed I'll be, in fact. I want to focus on the game. I'm not planning to take notes or anything, and since a single session will take place over many days/nights (weeks, maybe?), I don't know how much of a cohesive report I'll be able to provide. But unless I stop typing, we'll never find out, will we?

Justin, this one's for you, my friend.

Helpful Videos and Players Aids I'm Using

Exploration Play #1, 23-Mar-2016
Scenario: Los Dueños del Mundo
Result: -4, Major Defeat

Update #1
Update #2
Update #3

Exploration Play #2, 04-Apr-2016
Scenario: A Broken Country
Result: +2, Minor Victory

Update #1
Update #2
Update #3
Update #4

Exploration Play #3, 16-May-2016
Scenario: The Fearing Time
Result: Major Defeat, auto-loss during the American Civil War

Update #1
Update #2

Conclusion
Navajo Wars is an excellent, historic, thinky, and long-playing solitaire game. The player takes control of the Diné (or Navajo people) through many years of their history, from the Spanish Period of the late 1500s through the American Civil War in the 1860s. The best way for me to describe it briefly is an advanced States of Siege style game. There are several tracks on the map with a “central” location (it’s actually on the right side), but the player occupies and defends, so to speak, all tracks as the Enemy comes from the single location, Santa Fe, New Mexico…rather than the reverse as in a typical SoS game. There is a deck of cards which determines the number of actions the Enemy will take, as well any events that may occur throughout the course of play. It is up to the player to manage several Navajo families as they grow crops, raise animals, deal with drought, nurture their culture and traditions, and of course defend themselves from the Enemy encroaching on their land, their history, and their wellbeing.

It’s not an easy game to jump into. There is a lot going on. None of it complicated mind you, but it will still take some effort to learn the ins and outs of the gameplay and form any basis of strategy in the early goings. The game offers several scenarios of varying lengths and difficulty levels, covering the different periods of Navajo history. I’ve found the full scenarios to take me around four to five hours of playtime to complete, and it has felt both satisfying and draining at the same time. When playing all three full scenarios for this exploration one after the other, I’ve felt I needed a break between sessions to re-energize and prepare myself for another deep dive into this game. But each time I did, I was excited and enthusiastic to be back at the table for the next scenario.

The components supplied by GMT are excellent quality. The game board is quite stunning with its use of colored stones to represent point-to-point areas of movement. There are several nice touches, including authentic looking “bowls” to store the various cubes and chits on the board. I think the board could use some slight alterations as the main space for the current event card is a little far away from the player. And there wasn’t quite enough room along the top of the board to store all of the Cultural Development cards you have in play during the last scenario, when you have the most available to you. But these are minor issues. The counters are standard, good quality GMT fare. Cardstock is nice, although a little stiff for shuffling…but there isn’t much of that needed anyway. My least favorite part of the game though, is the player aids. These are essential for the player and will be used constantly. The main one is a three-page pamphlet that opens wide. It is unwieldy and inconvenient. Thankfully, I found a set of player aids on BGG that work excellent for my needs and only require the use of the GMT supplied ones for certain situations.

As for the gameplay, it can feel somewhat long and repetitive as you are basically doing the same handful of actions from turn to turn. And I feel this way about the States of Siege games as well. What keeps it from becoming a slog though, is the way the games presents the narrative and history of the Diné as you progress. I’ve played a few historic-themed games including Freedom: The Underground Railroad and a couple of the aforementioned SoS games. In those, the history is right on the cards, usually with words and pictures/illustrations. When I first began playing Navajo Wars, I was disappointed by the complete lack of information being presented to me. The event cards are solely words describing gameplay actions. There is no snippet of whom or what is being represented by that card. It’s all procedural. How am I supposed to learn anything from that?!

And that’s where the genius of the game’s design shines through. It doesn’t tell you the history of the Navajo people, it shows it to you. You witness it play out in front of you. You participate in the narrative that evolves over the course of the scenario you are playing. You’ll see Spanish Missions pop up and advance deeper into your land, reducing your people’s hold on its cultural significance. Other, rival tribes and various Enemy armies will raid your homes, battle your families, and take your children as slaves. You’ll attempt to grow corn to feed yourselves only to see the harsh environment of the southwestern desert cause droughts and difficulties for your survival. Elders of your community will lead you as best they can, giving you guidance and support in your way of life. It’s pretty great how it all comes together.

The main engine of the game is the AI action matrix. It’s a thing of beauty for us solo gamers. It’s thematic. It’s predictable and yet constantly changing, offering a different set of actions from turn to turn for the Enemy. And it’s very easy to implement, while offering a complex set of results for the Enemy to perform. There are three sets of counters available representing the Spanish, Mexican, and American time periods, and each one has a different “feel” to it. This action matrix is the heart of the AI and will keep the player on his toes and always needing to adjust his strategy accordingly. It’s an excellent system that I hope to see more of in future games of all types.

Overall, I feel this is a really great gaming experience. This is one of the “big” games in my collection, and I really wanted to give it its due time on the table. I needed to focus on learning the rules, forming a basic strategy, and managing the time and effort it takes to simply play the game. I’m becoming more interested in historically themed games and this one certainly provides the history. I don’t mean to sound jingoistic, but I like that it’s about an American culture, that it took place on American soil, and it’s a history I can see myself (of course, nearer to my home there were different native peoples than the Navajo, but they suffered similar fates). Sure, I’ve found WWII-era history and other time periods interesting in the past, but as I grow older, I’ve become more interested in what happened here in the United States (it’s one of the reasons I just picked up Don’t Tread on Me as well).

Navajo Wars is challenging, interesting, and full of historical narrative. It’s also long and mentally draining. I can’t honestly say when, or even if, I’ll take this back down from the game shelf. There are many games in my collection (like many of us), and it isn’t always easy to make that kind of commitment to a big game such as this one. But I do like having this one as that option. I’m definitely curious to see how the next game in the series updates and changes the basic system of play, Comanchería. I don’t know that I’ll get it any time soon as Navajo Wars seems to fill that itch for me for now. But I’m happy to see the series continue. And as I stated earlier, I’d love to see this type of AI engine be implemented for other games. For now, Navajo Wars is going back on the shelf, but I’m really glad to have put the effort into learning and experiencing all that’s in the box.
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No! I haven't forgotten about Navajo Wars. It's coming, people. I've just been completely engrossed with Helionox lately. I've played it twenty times in the last four weeks. Most of those were for the (failed) Kickstarter expansion, Mercury Protocol. I've had a ton of fun with it. Great little game. And an even better expansion...which will hopefully do better the second time around.

Anyway, that's not why I'm writing today. Instead, it's time for:

The State of the Union Collection


I'm not sure why, honestly, but I felt the need to "write" this down. My game collection has been booming lately. Like, a lot. Mostly in the last six months too. Last year, I felt like I had gotten things under control. I was buying less (at least my poor memory says I was). I liked where my game collection was at, and I wanted to dive into many of the games I owned. Thus, I started this geeklist about a year ago.

I had games I owned for a long time that were never really played much...or at all, for that matter. I had games that needed my attention longer than a single play so I could internalize the rules as well as decide if it was a game I actually wanted to remain in my possession. No need to keep games on the shelf that most likely wouldn't see much table time, right?

Then it began. I'm pretty sure the dam was broken by Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident. Kevin (of the annual Solo Top 20 geeklists) put a bunch of stuff up for sale in October, including Last Frontier. It's a game I was interested in for some time, so I jumped on it. Ever since then, I've been bringing more and more into the collection. Of course, I did sell a few things and traded a couple, so games were leaving as well...it wasn't all "bad." But overall, I've gotten a lot of new stuff since Last Frontier showed up.

Here's a rundown in a semi-approximate order they arrived:
Last Frontier: the Vesuvius Incident - awesome looking sci-fi game; currently unplayed
Shephy - fast, little solo card game; already gone from the collection
In Magnificent Style - a game I got from Ryan/Malaiser; looks like a lot of push-your-luck fun in a little VPG box; currently unplayed
Snowdonia: Trans Australian Railway - expansion for Snowdonia; not sure when it arrived, but it feels like this timeframe; currently unplayed
Helionox: the Last Sunset - already talked about too much, I'm sure
Paperback: nice twist on a standard deckbuilder; but already gone from the collection
Shadowrun Crossfire: High Caliber Ops - "must have" expansion for one of my fave games; currently unplayed
Battlestations - this is a long time curiosity for me that I got in a trade from Mr Sofge himself; and he was kind enough to send two expansions with it; it's not a solo game, but I hope to give it a try someday; currently unplayed
APBA Pro Baseball 2015 Four-Team Pack - grabbed a small set of four teams to add to my base set of APBA for a total of eight teams; currently unplayed
Neuroshima Hex! - I became obsessed by this one this year and had to own a physical copy...and five of the expansions; played
Nuklear Winter '68 - interesting theme for a (non-solo) wargame; I've been curious about it for a long time (thanks to Ryanmobile); currently unplayed
Heart of Ice - this is a gamebook...which I didn't know existed; pretty fun choose-your-own-adventure for adults; two readings so far
San Juan: the New Buildings and Events - expansion for one of my longest owned games; currently unplayed
Warhammer Quest: ACG - perhaps my biggest "want" of 2015; great game; acquired from Ryan/Malaiser and explored above
Forlorn: Hope - another cool looking sci-fi game I've had my eye on for some time; I won this from the Solo Chain of Generosity from Mr Sofge (again, he appears); currently unplayed
Deathmaze - and being the generous dude that he is, he sent me me not one, but two additional games; this is an old-school dungeon crawl / RPG looking thing; looking forward to trying it; currently unplayed
Shapeshifters: 20th Anniversary Edition - and a Sofge design; this isn't a solo game, but a 2P duel, if I'm not mistaken; again very "old-school" looking; will definitely give it a go someday; currently unplayed
Until Dawn - this is one of Jack's/Pusherman42 designs that I playtested several years ago; he finally released it on Drive Thru Cards so I got myself a copy; currently unplayed

And this week alone (it's only Tuesday, people!) saw these arrive on my doorstep:
Don't Tread on Me - got a good deal on the Marketplace for this one; purchase inspired by Justin/Joestin and Delphine/Koinskyz; currently unplayed
51st State: Master Set - pre-ordered copy just arrived; been really interested in this game for a few years; currently unplayed
Runebound: Third Edition - got this super cheap from a BGG auction; COULD NOT turn down a deal like that; plus it was my second biggest "want" of 2015; currently unplayed
Shadowrun: Beginner's Box - and from the same auction, grabbed this for a couple bucks; always been curious what an RPG is actually like as I've never tried one, so I thought this would be a nice way to dip my toe into the cyberpunk water; currently unplayed

And not only that:
Nemo's War: Second Edition - in November I received a prototype copy of this and then went in on the Kickstarter in December; see exploration above
Legends of Andor - I RE-acquired this last summer (I think) after trading it away the previous summer, because I "needed" to have it back...thanks, Davekuhns; currently unplayed
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective - I bought this from the 1P Trading Post two years ago now? Two and half?! Can't remember. Still unplayed, sadly. Shamefully.

So yeah. That's a lot of stuff in the last six to eight months or so. Like I said, not sure what got into me. And I'm not sure if it will continue. I just tried to go in on that Helionox expansion on Kickstarter, and will do so when it comes back up. There's a Star Wars game or two that are still tugging at my wallet. Who knows.

Hm. I guess I feel better. Maybe I just needed to purge all of that information from my brain. The thing is, I have so many fantastic looking games to play!! Seriously, there is some super cool stuff sitting on my shelves now that I'm very excited to play. I hope I get to sit down and play these in the coming months.

Alright, thanks for putting up with my navel gazing entry. Let's hope the next time I post to this geeklist, it will be to wrap up Navajo Wars and then to move onto the next game for exploration!

Woot!
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21. Board Game: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:65] [Average Rating:7.82 Unranked]
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NO SPOILERS HERE

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Why This Game?
I've been a fan of Sherlock Holmes stuff for a long time. As a kid, I used to watch the old Sherlock movies with Basil Rathbone as the titular character. I've read many (but not all...not even close, really) of Doyle's short stories over the years. I watch the current TV series Sherlock (BBC) and Elementary (CBS). Plus, I've played, and immensely enjoy, the PnP game, Sherlock Holmes Detective Story Game. And while I would not consider myself Holmesian in any sense of the word as I could not spout Sherlockian canon if you paid me, I still find interest in the stories of Sherlock Holmes to this day.

So when I first heard of this game several years ago after getting into the hobby, it definitely caught my attention. About two years ago, I finally grabbed a copy of the 1P Trading Post. Yay! And there is sat on my game shelf. Waiting. And waiting. The "right time" was coming, I'm sure. And yet, there it was month after month. And now year after year. Well, I'm tired of waiting for just the right time to play. I'm just going to break it out and dig in.

I'm pretty confident that I will enjoy this experience, but you never know, do you? Will I find pleasure in working through the stories, making my own deductions, taking notes, looking up names and places in a directory? Ummmm...yeah! Well, I think so. But since it's been almost two years in the making, have I let the moment pass? Or built up my own interest too much to satisfy myself at this point? Maybe. So enough chit chat. Let's find out, shall we?!

And of course, I will keep all spoilers hidden in the comments below. Mainly, I believe I will talk about the process of the playing the game. How I think it works in terms of gameplay, fun, and challenge. The usual stuff. So no worries for those out there following along who have not played the game previously. You should be able to avoid any spoilers if you wish.

Exploration Play #1, 22-May-2016
Case #1, The Munitions Magnate
4 of 8 Questions answered correctly
2 of 8 Questions sort of knew / on the right track
2 of 8 Questions utterly failed

Exploration Play #2, 22-May-2016
Case #2, The Tin Soldier
3 of 8 Questions answered correctly
5 of 8 Questions utterly failed

Exploration Play #3, 26-May-2016
Case #3, The Mystified Murderess
1 of 8 Questions answered correctly
7 of 8 Questions utterly failed

Conclusion
To put it briefly, this "game" puts you right in the heart of a Sherlock Holmes mystery, allowing you to make the decisions of where the story goes, what clues are important, and finding the answer to the mystery at hand. I put the word game in quotes, because I think this is more of an interactive story than a typical hobby game we normally play. The rules offer you a way to tally points at the end and compare your results to Sherlock himself as a win condition. But if you play that way, I would guess your experience will be frustrating and disappointing. Rather, Consulting Detective is more an immersive experience than a game you are trying to win.

This might be the most thematic game in my collection. You really are the one trying to solve the mystery. The designer and publisher have done an impressive job, overall, putting this together. It's all text on paper. There are no fancy cardboard bits to move around. No minis. No cards, even. It's a box full of papers. And lots and lots of words. There are ten case books, ten "newspapers," a map of London, and a directory of names and places to visit. You'll need to provide some paper and a good pencil, because you need to take notes, probably the more the better. Each casebook opens with the setup of the mystery written just like a "real" Sherlock Holmes story. This person was killed here, with this type of weapon. He worked over there. Is/was married to this person. And this other person maybe witnessed part of the crime. Now, go!

From that little bit of information, it is up to the player to decide who (whom? I'm so poor at English. Sad.) to speak with, what locations to visit, and where to do some of your research. A newspaper is also available to you from that day (as well as any from previous, older cases), and you may find some hints to your case there as well. Maybe you want to head to Scotland Yard to speak with the authorities about the details of the crime. Perhaps you'll go to the scene of the crime and gather some clues that may have been missed previously. Or head on over to the seedy pub where you might gather some underground information from a not-so-law-abiding "friend." Who knows? It's all up to you.

The difficulty, of course, is putting all of the pieces together. There is most certainly a high level of deduction involved when trying to come to a conclusion about the crime and its perpetrators. Some places you visit and people you speak to will give you several pieces of information. Other times, it will be an extremely brief encounter without any help offered to your case. You'll need to track this information, decide which pieces fit into the puzzle you are putting together, and then make a resolution based on your deduction skills.

And this is where the "game" can become frustrating...if you allow it. Once you've decided you have reached a point when you know the answers to the questions at hand...you then go look up the questions to see what is being asked. That's right; you don't actually know what you're supposed to be looking for. Remember, you're playing the role of Sherlock (okay, you're actually one of his group of helpers, but you're basically taking his place in the case). And Sherlock isn't told everything he's supposed to look for before he begins. Right?! Sure, the obviously ones are there: who did it and why? Maybe how? But there are other questions. Questions that may have never even occurred to you along your journey. Questions about people you never even encountered. Questions about a second case that you didn't even know you were supposed to be solving.

Now, this can lead to frustration, maybe even anger, as you realize you have no idea what is going on, how it got there, or why. Or it can lead you to reevaluate your position, wonder what clues you may have glossed over, and perhaps send you back to the beginning of the story, looking for new avenues to explore, additional clues to discover, and further answers to deduce. It's a difficult position I've found myself in during my first three cases. And I honestly can't say I loved it...nor hated it. It's both frustrating and fascinating. I felt pleased with my results and dumbfounded. And I wonder if I would have enjoyed reading one of Conan Doyle's stories even more than playing Consulting Detective.

The questions and answers are on different pages. And in between is Sherlock himself, explaining his solution to the case. He may visit three or four places and/or people, make wondrous observations, masterful deductions, and even an assumption or two. And how are you supposed to compete with that? You can't. Or, if you can, you are a genius. Some of his reasoning is seemingly presumptuous...to the point of him knowing things that aren't in the case book, or at the very least very, very difficult to find and confirm. This feels like Sherlock just "being Sherlock," which can make the player think his own efforts are meaningless in comparison. And that is why you shouldn't play this as a "game," but enjoy it as immersive experience. You can't compete with the master sleuth, so don't bother. Just enjoy the ride.

There are some component issues as well. The font in the case books is awful, in my opinion. It's all italicized and "fancy." The line width is too thin to stand out on the parchment paper stylized background. Some of the letters were unintelligible to me, and I had difficulty reading the story, let alone take notes and make deductions based on what I had read. I got used to it, over the three cases, but it could be much, much better.

You decide what person or place you are going to next via a location code. These codes are listed alphanumerically in the case book, so as you are flipping through looking for the one you chose, you might see another that is excessively long in nature. "Hm, that one must be important; I hope find it soon." Or maybe there is a picture of some clue, a receipt perhaps or some other piece of paper with writing on it (in handwriting that is even more difficult to decipher than the font used). "Gee, I need to find that thing somewhere in here; wonder how I get to it?" This is really unavoidable, of course, but it is a potential issue.

And the typos, oh my! They are all over the place. At first, I didn't notice many. But once I did, I couldn't help but see them again and again. It became a bit distracting. Also, the back of rulebook shows a list of "generic" locations you might want to visit on any (or all) cases - the coroner's office, Scotland Yard, Sherlock's home, etc. And each of these has a location code just like all the other places. However, they use a different code that doesn't match the rest of the game. One might be located at 5-SO, 5 being the building number and SO being the section on the map. However, there is no SO on the map. There is an SE and SW. So, if you want to go there, you need to look up both of the S(?) locations to figure it out, maybe reading something you didn't intend to. As elaborately intertwined the as the story is, you would think the editing would have been equally impressive. Perhaps it was mainly due to translation from one language to another, but it detracts from what is a creative puzzle of disjointed paragraphs.

Okay, I'm really going on much longer than I intended with this. Sorry about that. Also, I feel like I may be sounding very negative overall. So, let me end it this way. Wow! What a highly thematic, immersive experience Consulting Detective provides. Not only are you involved with the story as it progresses, you are in it, making the decisions as to what is important to note and what direction to head next. It's quite impressive how this thing is all put together, with the basic setup of a story, the long and winding puzzle of the narrative, and the intertwining of the newpapers and map of London with the case being solved. Yes, there are both moments of frustration and success when it comes to your own mastery of deduction. But the good thing is, you can go back and look for those juicy tidbits of information that you missed the first time, and see just how it all comes together in the end.
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22. Board Game: In Magnificent Style [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:3220]
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Why This Game?
I've had my eye on this little VPG title for quite a while now. A few other 1PG-ers I admire have said very positive words about IMS. And while I still haven't been bitten by the wargame bug, I have found that I'm becoming interested in historically themed games more and more lately, especially those taking place on American soil (Navajo Wars, Don't Tread on Me are recent examples). And this one seems like it will fit right into the Historical Game category very nicely.

However, it appears to be a dice game, and those are very hit and miss for me in the end. I hope this game's theme will help me overcome that and just enjoy the ride. I know the main mechanism is that of press-your-luck, of which I do not have an aversion, so I have high hopes for a good experience.

Exploration Play #1, 13-Jun-2016
Union Spaces Captured: 2, Poor
Total Victory Points: 1, Catastrophe


Conclusion
In Magnificent Style is a historically themed game, depicting Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, during the US Civil War in 1863. You control nine Confederate Brigades, separated into three Divisions, as they charge forward into Union territory. Each Brigade advances forward in it's vertical column on the game's map via a press-your-luck dice mechanism reminiscent of the classic game, Can't Stop. You'll also be pulling random event chits both for the Confederates and the Union Units, deciding where to lay down fire, which Brigade receives reinforcements, and where & when to use the General of each Division. You must capture as many Union positions as possible under heavily unfavorable odds.

Okay, there is a lot of dice rolling in this game. Like a lot, a lot. And duh, right?! It's how the game is designed. You roll to advance each Brigade and then roll again. And then again. And keep rolling until you decide to stop pressing your luck or until you're forced to stop by some specific result of the dice. With nine Brigades each needing to travel ten spaces on the map, that's ninety dice rolls right there.

Now some of them will never make it that far, and several of your dice rolls will not result in an advance. You'll need to reroll, perhaps several times, before being able to advance a single space. Sometimes you'll be forced to fall back and then have to re-advance across several spaces you have already traversed previously. And hopefully, desperately, you might reach the Union's position at the end of that line of spaces with at least a little bit of strength left to put up a semi-repectable fight against the enemy.

And at the end of two hours of rolling dice over and over and over, I was honestly just completely tired of it. You see, the dice are the game's main decision maker in what happens. You roll the dice first, look up the result on a nice little chart, do what it tells you, and then repeat. The player, of course, decides how many times to keep rolling (if the dice didn't force a stoppage), but any other important decisions are much less often. Some event chits will allow to you lay down extra fire against the enemy, you may gain a few reinforcements and need to decide which Brigade to give them to, and each of the three Generals can be used once per turn for a special DRM.

The game is pretty light on the complexity and gameplay scales. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but after two hours of rolling dice, I wanted more to do. Now this was my first session, so rules had to be checked here and there, and the dice chart becomes more and more second nature the further into the game you get. So turns went more quickly later in the game than at the beginning. But if this game doesn't come in at 60 minutes as the box states...but preferably less...than it isn't for me.

With all that being said (and I apologize for the rambling negativity), I would like to give kudos to Mr Luttmann for this game's design. It truly does integrate theme and game mechanisms into a wholly realized, historical experience. I had a couple YES! moments (but could have used one or two more) and a handful of NO! moments to boot. Moments I felt the need to stand up and witness from above. Feeling the desperation...the need...to just reach the Union's position at the end of the line, even though I knew it meant certain death. And that feeling of exhilarating depression, knowing that I was finally able to capture a Union position...but only at the expense of my entire Brigade of soldiers.

I am not a history buff, and therefore I am not knowledgeable on the details of this particular battle beyond its very basics, but I leave my first session of the game feeling like I know it. And that is certainly an achievement by the designer and one I would hope any historically themed game would provide me. The game integrates theme and game mechanisms wonderfully. It's light on the decision making, allowing the player to witness much of the action while interjecting small, but potentially important, choices here and there. If it would come in around the 30-45 minute mark, it might be one of the best games I own. But longer than that, and I'm not sure it's in my wheelhouse.

I know I've only played this once, but I'm calling it explored as I feel like I fully understand the gameplay and what it's all about. I do plan to play it at least once more to see where the game length falls now that I'm familiar with the rules, and I do hope to keep it for the long haul. But I'll have to wait and see.



Addendum

Additional Play, 17-Jun-2016
Union Spaces Captured: 5, Good
Total Victory Points: 104, Standstill


So, I've been thinking about this game on and off since my first play and write-up...that's always a good sign for a game, IMO. And with my family out for the evening, I went looking for a game to play. I definitely enjoyed myself..."winning" always helps, right?! But I still have the same general feel for the game as after my first session. It's a fantastic melding of historical flavor and game mechanisms...but it's just a little long for my personal preference.

This second play took an even 90 minutes, plus a few minutes on either end for setup and teardown. And I was moving along at a good clip. I didn't need the dice chart, just confirming the results directly here and there to be sure my memory was correct. I didn't overthink any of my moves. And it played very smoothly. I just wish it were under an hour to complete a session. There are definitely decisions to be made, but with so many dice rolls and chit draws controlling much of the action, I feel it goes on a little too long for its weight.

Again, I cannot deny how excellent the design is. It's just a bit outside my gaming preference to see regular table time.
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Well, it's been a solid six weeks since I made any contributions to this geeklist, so I thought it would be a good time to drop in with a few thoughts and let you know what I've been up to lately.

The Exploration Geeklist is alive and well. I haven't abandoned it, and I am eyeing up my next Exploration game...more on that at the end of this post. After finishing up my exploration of In Magnificent Style, I decided to jump into this year's Solo PnP Contest to see what was available.

Last month, I finally broke out of my year-long (or longer) PnP slump with the help of Until Dawn. I had received a nice copy via Drive Thru Cards, and I was suddenly back in the wonderful world of PnP games. I went through a slew of faves (new and old), including: 30 Rails, Blood Rush, A Night in Deepwail Manor, Rail Baron Rivals, Supermarché, Dungeon Construction Kit: Cursed!, and Lassos & Longhorns.

And with In Magnificent Style complete, I decided it was time to see what new and exciting games were being offered in this year's contest. Despite my excitement for PnP games, I was not looking forward to crafting something big. So, instead, I sought out games light on components and rules, or games I could play using Tabletop Simulator (thanks to Chad's efforts for creating mods). That lead me to these four games thus far:


Mech Capture: 31 plays
This is a fun micro-filler that I'd put into the same category as games like Elevenses for One, Blood Rush, Murderer's Row, and A Night in Deepwail Manor. It's a lighter game; plays in under 15 minutes. It's not one you'll be playing for hours on end or look to for deep gameplay, but it's another solid option for those times when you want to play a game, but don't really have the time or mental capacity for something more significant.

It's only 36 cards and no other components. If you strip away the theme, it's kind of a Patience variant. But you are looking to capture or destroy enemy Mechs by matching icons on player cards vs enemy cards. There are two modes of play: single game and campaign. Both work very nicely. I ended up being the designer's unofficial playtester on this one, as you can see from the number of plays I've gotten in so far. Definitely check it out.



Daydream Dungeon: 1 play
I won't say too much about this one as I've only played it once. And since my play, the game has gone through some significant revisions. I'm definitely interested in trying it again though as my first play was fun. It's a single page game. You just need a pencil and 1d6 to play. It's described as being similar to old-school roguelikes. I didn't know what that meant (my geek cred shamed once again), but I liked the simplicity of the rules and one-page design. Check it out if you're interested in an easy to learn, craft, and play dungeon crawler.



Dungeons of Light and Darkness: 2 plays
I played this one via Chad's TTS mod. It's a dice & tile-laying game, where you must search for the Fountain of Knowledge deep in the dungeon you create from random tile draws. There is an interesting dice mechanism which is used for drawing new tiles, movement, and creating "light" and "darkness" in the dungeon (basically what tiles are visible and accessible to the player). It's interesting, but I think it went a little long for my taste considering the level of decision-making...however, that could partially be due to the nature of playing it digitally. It's definitely playable and has some interesting design choices. I'd like to give it another play or two before making final judgement. The designer says he was inspired by Escape: the Curse of the Temple. Check it out if you have access to Tabletop Simulator.



Over Throne: 2 plays
This was the latest game I played from the contest. It uses only a standard Poker deck (or French deck). It's another Patience variant where you have to get through the deck once, placing all cards into one of five stacks (based on suit or K/Q/J). Any cards not played to one of these stacks will determine how poorly you played. It's a very quick game and doesn't require any crafting. It's always nice to have another Patience style game to play with a deck of cards. The first half to two-thirds of the game kinda plays itself, IMO. The decisions and choices come up later in the game when the deck is running low and you need to find ways to get the remaining cards into one of those stacks. Worth a look.


I hope to find one or two more gems in the contest. So far, the four I played are all worthy of play, and I appreciate the efforts of these designers to create free, enjoyable solo games for the rest of us. Please go support them with a play and a comment!!

Other than that, I've really only played two other games recently (besides my monthly Rallyman runs). I picked up two small box games from some birthday money I was given last month. One game is a big hit. The other is on its way out, sadly.


Peloponnes Card Game: 4 plays
I've already talked about this in several other places, so I'll be brief. It's a great Euro-style card game that matches its big brother cardboard version in feel and gameplay. The main differences between the two (other than component material) is that disasters are more random in the cardgame, with some may not occurring at all. And instead of a series of five plays (think Agricola solo campaign), the cardgame is more like five difficulty levels (more like Friday). There are some other, small differences, but really, if you told someone to "make me a card game version of Peloponnes," I can't image a better result than this. Fun, challenging, simple AI system, less than 30 minutes playtime, small box, half the price of the boardgame. Other than not having any expansions (yet), I don't see any reason to suggest the boardgame over the cardgame. Great stuff!



Castellion: 8 plays
Well, I've come to the extremely disappointing conclusion that the Oniverse games (other than 1e Onirim) are just not for me. :sigh: I mean really, this series of games should be the highlight of my collection. Sadly, I just have not found any significant enjoyment in any of the games beyond the original. I had watched a video or two of Castellion and thought it might be a winner for me. It's a puzzly tile-layer...two aspects I generally enjoy in games. But no, I just could not get past its "warts." The main one is this game's version of Onirim's Nightmares.

The Nightmares in Onirim not only offer several options for the player to choose in terms of his penalty, but the game offers ways to manipulate the deck to avoid or maneuver the Nightmares within the deck, or to even remove them from play through player actions. None of that is here. Either you discard a Traitor tile (and destroy four tiles in your structure) or you take the hit to your Objective card. And that's all. It's completely random. And it isn't fun, IMO. Of the eight games I played, three of them were lost because of drawing several Traitors in a row, ending my session without an option to avoid them. I certainly see the strategy within the gameplay to use Defender tiles to manipulate the current board state, and playing at the "expert" level is where the game should be played. But I cannot get past the idea of random defeat. This game will be up for sale/trade this week.


Oh well.

So, with all that being said, I'm ready for something bigger. Something more involved. It's been a while since I played a "big" game: Gears of War on June 16 and before that, Navajo Wars on May 16. I've been keeping it short and sweet lately. A lot of card games too. It's time to push some cardboard around again. I've got my eye on a couple of games to explore next, but I thought it would be fun to see which one you guys are more interested in hearing about. So, it's POLL TIME! Let me know which of these games you'd like me to explore next. Most likely, I'll hit them all up in the near future anyway, but I'm curious to know what you guys are most excited for.

Poll
Which game should I explore next?
  Your Answer   Vote Percent Vote Count
Don't Tread On Me: The American Revolution Solitaire Board Game
33.3% 2
Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident
0.0% 0
Runebound (Third Edition)
66.7% 4
Voters 6
This poll is now closed.   6 answers
Poll created by mo7189
Closes: Fri Jul 29, 2016 6:00 am


And, as always, thanks for hanging out with me, making comments, asking questions, being friends.

Mo
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24. Board Game: Runebound (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:413]
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The Pre-(r)amble:
Before I begin the next exploration game, I wanted to let you know that I've decided to change up the format a bit. Looking over the last few exploration posts, I see lots and lots of text. Long, rambling text. While I enjoy the end result myself, a) I'm not sure how many folks actually read the whole thing, and b) it takes me a long time to make those posts. And I don't want to do that any longer.

So, I'm going to try a new format. I'll still have the "pre-game" comments. And I'll play the game, posting a (hopefully) more brief summary of the session(s). After that, I want to get more to the point in my concluding section, maybe just a hit list of good, okay, and not so good points. Something along those lines; not totally sure yet. So, let me know that you think before, during, and/or after this exploration. Enjoy!



Solitaire Tracker Link

The Pre-Game:
I have to admit...I'm super excited to play this game. And that also concerns me that it will not live up to my anticipation. For the longest time, I wanted to get Runebound 2e, but it was always too expensive and just too "big" with all of those expansions. Then third edition was announced, and I was ready to start from the beginning. I finally picked up a copy about two months ago ($17 in BGG auction...WOOT!), and it's on my game table. I honestly don't expect this to be any kind of deep, thoughtful, challenging game experience. But I am looking for fun and adventure. Let's see what happens.



Sorry for the delay wrapping this up. Life got busy after I completed my third session. So, let's get to it...

Final Thoughts

Positives
+ Totally delivers on its tagline, "A Fantasy Adventure Boardgame." That's exactly what you get in this box: fantasy themed adventure in a boardgame format.
+ Component quality and artwork are typical FFG high quality (with one exception below). The board looks great. The cards are nice. The artwork is well done. The tokens are thick.
+ Both of the scenarios have a different feel to them, offering different strategies of success and gameplay.
+ I played three of the six available characters, and they also have a slightly different feel to them. Each one has a different starting strength, ability, and stats.
+ Lots of variety in the cards, especially playing a single role: adventures, items, and skills. You won't even see one-third of these in a solo-character game.

Negatives
- There are only two scenarios in the base game. That seems one light to me. Maybe it's my love of Schoolhouse Rock, but in mind, Three is a Magic Number.
- There is no Player Aid, not even on the back of either rulebook. On one is a listing of all the icons in the base game, which is nice, but a simple turn order and list of actions and their costs seem like a no-brainer to me.
- Seriously?! Stickered dice? That's totally acceptable for a PnP game or even a new publisher. But for a company of FFG's size and market share, printed dice are really expected. My copy of Runebound was barely used when I received it, and my stickers are already peeling up around the edges. I have contacted FFG for a new sticker sheet.

Neutrals
~ Runebound takes one-third the brain power as playing Mage Knight. But it also takes one-third the time. Depends on what you are in the mood to play and experience.
~ Once you get passed the "weird" idea of token-chucking as a replacement for dice-chucking to resolve combat, it does add small, but potentially important, tactical decisions you just don't get from straight up dice value comparison. However, it does add to the game's length.
~ There is still some luck involved both in card draws and those tokens, but it doesn't seem as much as with dice.
~ The double rulebook format that FFG has embraced works fine here (unlike in Warhammer Quest: ACG). But I still don't understand why it can't be combined into one cohesive rulebook.
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