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Subject: Quattro Singularis—A Solo Gamer’s 4-Player Crisis rss

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Adam Parker
Australia
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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The notion of simulating Rome in the mid 3rd Century AD when it went totally fratricidal, more nuts than any other time prior and foreboding a desolation to come, hit a definite hot button with me. Particularly when just preceding the period depicted, 235-284, Rome gave itself an Emperor who delighted walking backwards through the streets, stark naked, holding a rock.

More to the point though, this release by GMT Games came at a time when I wanted something clever, simple to learn, easy to set up and quick to play. While delivering the whole, however, I passed on its P500.

You see, this game needed 2-4 players and I ran my games exclusively solo. Then of course, came its card-based engine not always amenable to soloing. Lastly, it ignited on a fuel of constant intrigue more say, than a typical COIN title I’d played (were I to compare apples to oranges). While, in my games I tended to lose against myself often, self-flagellation was a twist I doubted mastery.

Still, a few weeks ago, months after launch, I decided on buying it.

Why? I really needed something packing fresh beer ’n’ pretzels as a respite from the more complex titles I’d also bought this gaming annus mirabilis and in the fora, folks were now raving about their face-to-face campaigns; some indeed, were running Time of Crisis on their own.


My Solo Adventure in a nutshell


Goths threaten the Yellow faction in Thracia, my Red faction watches ensconced in way off Gaul and Britannia for any signs of weakness.


So how did Time of Crisis play solo for me? First up this game works optimally only when all 4 sides are involved. While they all start generically with a core deck of 1s (card types run in values of 1-4 points), other than their initial home province selections and hand choices it’s up to each owner, moving clockwise player to player, to decide their history and fate. The more heads involved then, the more epic the theater and hence, the more fun the journey watching the map fill up fast and the laws of scarcity take over.

Unexpectedly, the biggest initial hurdle I found solo was not in running these 4 sides at all, rather than organizing them on my table.

Being a “Deck Building” game, a genre with which I was unfamiliar, Time of Crisis meant each side fielded 3 card piles: Available, Discard, and In Hand; a communal Draw and Event deck sat by the map’s side. It took me a while to finesse these ergonomics with all 12 card piles laid in front of me and it led to numerous false starts when things became muddled.

It’s the game’s (to me) unique card flow that’s felt here. Trash cards from a side’s Discard pile; “buy” new ones and place them in that Discard pile too (meaning they may not be accessible right away); purposefully fill the next turn’s Hand to 5 cards from a side’s Available pile; but if that runs out deem the side’s Discard pile its new Available pile and keep selecting. For me, something was bound to give going solo especially if I’d forgotten also to pre-calculate a side’s Support and Legacy which I often did.

By way of note, Time of Crisis does offer each side a card stock Place Mat (not shown above) to store two of these piles and sundry pieces but I didn’t use them finding their 8.5 x 11 inch side-by-side spread too cumbersome.

Nonetheless, on these mats also sits the game’s sole Player Aid and while ok, I didn’t find it complete.

So, among the first things I then did as well, was take the rule book (just 6 pages of text really) and transcribe 95% of it onto a 2-page chart. Not only did this help clarify the sides’ aims at a glance, they were massively beneficial when developing strategy.

Form there you either love what the game delivers—or pack it away confronted by the constantly moving parts of imperial ambition. In games terms, this translates into player Actions of the Military, Senate and Populace types by spending cards; managing Influence and Political points as your personal empire expands across the then known-world, all with the aim of amassing Legacy—and possibly the seat of Italia itself.

The choices open to each side during a turn are in fact smooth and pleasingly many; the essential inter-factional meddling and backstabbing even more immense; and to me the flavor of the whole was sublime. Folks who like strategic chaos will rejoice, not to mention the Event Deck and 5 stacks of Barbarian tribes waiting their random activation and potential.


Hark an Official Solo Play Augury

But for soloists, there’s better news. Designer Wray Ferrell has announced a pure solitaire system is in the works allowing too, for multiplayers to opt in an AI for a 4-player game should live victims ever fall short. What this will be—and when it will arrive—I have no idea.

For me though, it will definitely resolve the unavoidable conundrum, one I’ll admit as I’ve alluded to above: What cards do I buy as competition per side each turn? And which do I pick/trash for each hand?

That after all, is the game’s logos. Currently, I’ve gone with intuited-randomness and indeed though it works I’m craving a better way. Cohering 4 ambitious sides ad hoc and ad nauseam can be a tad baffling unless you’re willing to just roll with the flow.


Summa Cum Laude


Having beaten the Goths, Yellow pounces on a weak Italia and takes the title of Emperor in Rome. My Red faction still waits in Gaul and Britannia ... for any sign of weakness.


What this all means is that Time of Crisis is destined to become one of my “go to” games as a break from longer and more complex play. But though roughly doable solo as is, I’ll need its forthcoming solitaire system to seal the deal. Running just one hand, letting bots direct the others will be the salt my pretzels need.

It’s a select title in that regard. As is, it fits my casual gaming niche precisely: simple, stimulating, fast prepping (15 minutes from box to first turn), quick-playing, and historically plausible.

That’s why I bought it and my Legions boast replete. Though they look for the treachery that will soon stain crimson (or yellow, blue or green) my mounted map beneath.

Happy gaming,
Adam.
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Wray Ferrell
United States
Cary
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I will certainly let you know when we are ready to for some outside play testing for the solo AI.
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Adam Parker
Australia
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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That would be awesome Wray.

And NB folks, adjusted that second pic to remove a duplication
 
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Mark Mitchell
United States
Fairfax
Virginia
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In the second picture, its clearly evident that several provinces have been taken over by "players", so my question is: why is the support level of Italia still at 8?
 
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